A hundred years ago, if two people were in the same room they would be . . .  in the same room. That seems straightforward.

Fast-forward to 2013. Now if you put two people in the same room, at least one of them will be texting someone who is not in the room.  The mind of the person doing the texting will be, for all practical purposes, somewhere else. That person has smeared space. His mind and body are in two completely different places.

I wonder about the implications of this spatial smearing. I think it will make our brains evolve differently. A caveman's brain only had to keep track of his actual physical location and perhaps the watering hole. Modern humans keep in their minds a virtual map of the world that includes all the places they have travelled, the location of their friends, and all the places they might later go. We also browse the Internet and take our minds all over the world in the form of news. Presumably this has an impact on our brain development. The part of human brains that controls spatial stuff will become the size of a pumpkin.

In 2013 most adults consider it rude when someone whips out a phone and starts texting at the dinner table, or interrupts a conversation to handle an incoming text message. But the standards of etiquette are rapidly evolving. If you put four teens at a dinner table, all four will be texting and none of them will think it rude. I doubt they will drop the habit as adults.

I've been thinking about this topic because I get a strange feeling when someone starts texting in my presence. I feel as if that person is no longer in the room. And this raises an interesting question of etiquette on my part: Can I treat a person who is texting in my presence the same as someone who is not in the room? For example, can I leave the room without a goodbye or an explanation? Can I make a phone call that will last half an hour, thus making the texting person wait when he is done texting?

Can I text someone who is standing right in front of me and texting someone else? It seems the best way to get from wherever I am to wherever the other person's brain went.  That's a serious question, by the way, because I generally want to communicate with the people who are in the room with me. When the phone gets top priority for communication, sometimes texting the person standing right in front of you is the only way. (And yes, I've done this.)

I also wonder if it is polite to interrupt someone who is sending a text. Do I get a higher priority simply by being in the same room? Or must I wait in silence and stare at the wall until the other is done texting?

Google Glasses will take this spatial smearing to a new level. At least with smartphones you can tell when someone's mind is elsewhere. But how happy will you be when you are having a conversation in person and your friend keeps glancing up to watch his little projection screen inside his glasses? I think Google Glasses might be the last straw for in-person communication. My plan when Google Glasses replace smartphones is to just say fuck it and never again attempt to make conversation in person.  It will be too frustrating.

I'm not suggesting life in the future will be worse. I generally welcome new technology. And communicating with several people at once without the limits of space or time is awesome. But I think in-person communication will come to be seen as annoying and inefficient. I will go so far as to predict that in-person communication will someday be seen as a rude interruption to whatever is happening inside your Google Glasses.

That's a serious prediction.

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Feb 6, 2013

me: [Why do you need a Sears tower?]
you: [All of us Dilbert fans know the answer to that one.]

It was meant to be rhetorical, but I do know the real answer: Managers suck at their jobs.

In a productive environment an employee will be measured on work output - quality, quantity, timeliness, etc. Unfortunately, managers are not good at understanding what an employee does that might be good or bad for the company, and even if they do understand they are not good at measuring those things, and those few who understand and know how to measure are often constrained by their inevitably inept senior management. So managers control what they can see and can understand and can sell to HR and other PHB's. They can see an employee sitting in his seat. Job well done!

The lack of true measurement of job performance allows the charismatic idiot to be promoted into higher and higher levels of management while the socially awkward expert is consigned to a lifetime of drudgery and cost-of-living raises, but hey, the charismatic idiot is more fun to hang out with, so... whatever.

In any case, my prediction that virtual face-to-face will rise is predicated upon the idea that managers won't get any better but technology will, and the PHBs who grew up with Skype and texting will be able to mismanage just as effectively with virtual face-to-face as they can with actual face-to-face.

(and apologies for treating an obviously whimsical reply as though it were serious)
Feb 6, 2013
You and your serious predictions. Argh.

Yes, it's rude to text when you're in a room with someone else. Just as it's rude to eat in someone's presence who is not eating. Rules of etiquette were developed over time to provide a standard way for us to interact with each other in ways that would not cause offense. While there is no doubt that etiquette evolves, there is also no doubt that ignoring someone with whom you're engaged by texting or doing your nails or writing a book is rude.

The way to answer rudeness is not to be rude in return. That leads to escalation of rudeness. He texts; you make a call. Then he is miffed by your calling, so he starts to vacuum the floor. Then you start to build a birdhouse with a really noisy power saw. Then he throws his phone at you, and you take the power saw and . . . well, you see where this is going.

What we need is to teach our children, and clueless adults, what constitutes appropriate behavior in the high-tech communication world and what does not. If it's rude to do it without a phone (build a birdhouse when you're supposed to be talking with someone in the same room), then it's rude to do it with a phone. It's not that hard a concept to get across. It's the action, not the source, that is the cause of the rudeness.

As to your "serious prediction," I disagree. People enjoy being physically with other people. If this were not so, then movie theaters would have died out (as they were predicted to do when television became readily available back in the 50's). There's something about the shared human experience that high tech will never replace.

It may be an exaggeration to say that we're pack animals, but we do like to be with each other. That's where <blush> babies come from, after all.
Feb 6, 2013
@Mark Naught

[Why do you need a Sears tower (I refuse to call it the Willis Tower) when office workers can see and speak to each other virtually? You reduce expenses for facilities, nobody is late due to traffic, you can hire (and work) from anywhere.]

All of us Dilbert fans know the answer to that one. The workers would have too much fun and be too productive at home. And we can't have that, now, can we?
Feb 6, 2013
Oh - about your prediction...

Face to face won't go away - there is just no substitute for the ability to see expressions, gestures, and body language. These are extremely important for gauging a person's response that you can't get from emoticons.

However, I see virtual face to face becoming far more common (Skype, etc.) and perhaps the standard. I'm really surprised that more companies haven't adopted virtual offices. Why do you need a Sears tower (I refuse to call it the Willis Tower) when office workers can see and speak to each other virtually? You reduce expenses for facilities, nobody is late due to traffic, you can hire (and work) from anywhere.

Text messaging problems will persist though. It'll still be rude to interrupt a Skype call to send text messages.
Feb 6, 2013
It makes me sound like a grumpy old man, but a face-to-face conversation takes priority and interrupting that conversation to read and send a stream of text messages is very rude. It makes me feel like the other person doesn't care what I have to say. If they don't care, why am I bothering to say it?

A quick interruption isn't a problem at all, but I will just stop and go do something else if the interruptions are frequent.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
Related issue - and one I'd love to see show up in a strip:

A lot more work gets done these days by audio and video bridge. The idea is that people can be anywhere but still work together just as effectively.

Hard to tell. It's true that in the old days of conference room meetings - people could zone out or text under the table. Now it's just too easy - especially on an audio bridge. Everyone checks in at the beginning. The leader launches into the agenda, a few people (usually the ones directly involved who need answers) engage in conversation - while everyone else goes back to whatever they were doing before the call started. This becomes obvious when the leader asks an individual by name for input. 9 times out of ten that person either doesn't answer or sheepishly admits to having been "temporarily" distracted.

Video makes it tougher - because you have the camera as a babysitter. You can't leave unnoticed, but the camera can't see your screen - so it is still easy to cheat. In that case I'd say 6 out of 10 times an unexpected call out gets the "I'm sorry I was distracted for a moment" response."

Add in Scott's topic - and really you can't ever assume anyone is actually engaged in a live conversation. Weird.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
My take on this is that I don't care if someone is texting so long as they are able to keep up their end of the conversation. I find that teenagers are generally very good at this (older people not so much). They can manage to text and have an unrelated conversation at the same time. It sometimes even improves the conversation since they sometimes interject new topics that stem from their texting. If the texting person can't keep up their end of the conversation I simply treat them the same way I would treat anyone else who was conversationally challenged.
Feb 6, 2013
My mind was never in the same room as my body
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
We have achieved transcendentalism, how is this a bad thing? We show that people are getting smarter, is it really IQ increases or is it an issue with the way it is tested, or maybe both? Is it just better access to information, you always get better when retaking a test once you've come across a particular problem before. There are good things and bad things about technology, most of them are due to the people using the technology. It's good that this comment is incoherent, it's how we see the world today. So many things going on, so many questions and issues, no wonder those "survivalists" want to build a fortress in Idaho. Life is clearly getting too complicated for some and they don't want to think so much. What was I talking about anyway?
Feb 6, 2013
I have a friend who regularly gets together with people and then spends 75% of her time texting or tweeting etc. She's a heavy social media user trying to promote her self published book & feels the need to respond to everyone who mentions her or IMs/texts/Facebook's her as quickly as possible to 'maintain a personal interaction'. Which I guess means the rest of us actual live in person people don't need that. After all, we've read the book & are not currently tweeting to thousands about it. *sigh* I've taken to just totally ignoring her presence when she does it. I leave the room, get everyone who answers me when I ask food or drink & we've been known to start card games without her.

The thing is, she would totally give her teen daughter hell for behaving that way in company. Unless everyone was texting.

If we were all doing it or it is some agreed upon "Text Mary & see why she isn't here" or "Text Bob & let him know the fun he is missing." kind of situation then that is different. But to be the one person out of 2 or 5 that can't put the phone down for 2 hours is arrogant as well as rude. Unless you are on call for work, put the phone down & talk to the people in front of you.
+15 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
I doubt if we evolve as a result of smart phones. There would have to be a breeding differential. That's not likely.

However, I do think that treating the person who texts while in conversation with you as being somewhere else is completely justified. It's rude and deserves a marked response like that.
Feb 6, 2013
Maybe a face-to-face will become a rare and treasured treat, like a handwritten note.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
Call me "Grandpa",
I thought the function and appeal of texting is that you can do it when you aren't supposed to be doing it. Kids in class, people at work.

I'm baffled as to why anyone would do it (or want to do it) while driving or in the presence of a person they know and like.

And why is it preferable over a quick email note?

Please excuse my ignorance, I'm old and I don't have any friends.
Feb 6, 2013
Read Daniel Suarez's two novels, "Daemon" and "Freedom". The second illustrates this world (as working, by the way) but really needs the first as basis. They work well together.
And are great reads also.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
Maintain your face-to-face social capacity and you will have mad skills over the hand-held crowd.
Feb 6, 2013
I guess I come from an older generation. I am not over joyed by the focus on instant communications. Much of the texting going on is really trival stuff. Do we really need to be in contact with every "friend" 100% of the time? Is the information we are sharing really of any consequence?
With the coming of the electronic age we have come to change the concept of friend - now we can have 100's of "Friends" on the social media. But are the really a friend?
I still enjoy the concept of interaction on a personnel level. Somehow, the electronic, never-ending communications really are not the substitution for one-on-one personnel interaction.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
Etiquette will change to accommodate the environment, it always has. We don't bow or wear gloves all the time any more, so I don't see it as a great and terrible thing that new ways of interacting are developing constantly. The old will always complain about the deterioration of everything as personified in youth (Texting in my presence? Not carrying a walking stick? Speaking without asking permission? What is the world coming to?!) and I plan to be no different. That impenetrable and badly pronounced slang they use is totally destroying the English language, besides.

But you're wrong about brain changes occurring in the short term. That's an acquired skill which is not passed on genetically, so until there's a eugenics program to breed for people who are better at spacial discombobulation, we're going to remain just as easily confused and poorly adapted to our own technology as we have been since fire was invented. Eventually, people who can't manage the social requirements of spreading themselves around will have enough trouble meeting mates that there may be some drift toward adaptation, but that's going to be long after we've colonized other planets, creating isolated populations ripe for founder effects.
Feb 6, 2013
Almost anytime someone comes to my office door or calls me on my phone, I generally feel disgusted and wonder why they couldn't e-mail me so as to not rudely interrupt. And in the future, that will change so that it will be everytime and not almost everytime.
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
A lot depends on what is happening in person. If there is a conversation or some similar event going on then it should be considered rude to not give it enough attention to know whats going on. If its quiet then I say text away. Interrupt someone who is texting? Yes. Whatever they're texting can wait a minute. Interrupt a phone call? No. The person on the other end is waiting for a response. Make a phone call while someone is texting? Yes. Nothing is happening that demands your attention so you can start some other activity.

Am I alone in this sort of thinking?
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