It's time etiquette catches up with electronic age

Whoa! Slow down! In the past few years, technological advances have been coming so quickly. Unlike the advent of radio and television -- which gave us many years to adjust to them -- computers, e-mail, pagers and cell phones have come upon us in a rush.

Cell phones are seen virtually everywhere, even in countries of the third world. Over a cell phone we can not only make phone calls but also receive and deliver messages on e-mail; and we can search the Internet. Pagers keep us on an "electronic leash," so that we need never be out of touch with happenings at the office or at home.

Over the TV set and/or the Internet, we can go shopping for nearly everything we need.

We can do our banking and pay bills there, too. Mechanical trouble in cars of newer vintage can be checked out at the garage by computer, so we needn't tell the mechanic what we think is wrong. In fact, it's possible to spend an entire day in electronic transactions, interacting with no one in a personal way.

Imagine the amazement of our grandparents. So much newfangled stuff! It seems that we are so far ahead of them, so much better off. But, are we? In the tangle of communication devices we use, do we really communicate well, so that we understand

each other? If we are always "electronically-leashed" do we ever have a chance to hear our own thoughts? Can we possibly 'center down' and begin to know who we really are?

It seems that we lose much of a sense of community if we don't interact with the banker, the retail clerk, the grocer who helps us thump the watermelons. Isn't it strangely enjoyable for men to join the garage mechanic in puzzling over that funny noise coming from under the hood? Haven't we lost a chance for neighborhood if we stay perpetually glued to the computer or TV and forget to rock slowly on our front porch, nodding to those who walk by? On balance, might we have lost more than we've gained?

Another glaring omission/loss seems to be a proper etiquette to accompany our use of the new technology.

"Etiquette," according to Webster, is: "the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life."

In our haste to adopt new technologies, we've not had time to develop the proper conduct to accompany them. Our excitement in knowing how to use e-mail may cause us to forward things to our friends that they don't have time or desire to receive. To them it may be so much electronic junk mail.

Or we eagerly chat on our cell phone, oblivious to those around us who might not want to be part of the conversation. We intrude on others' airspace, or leave dinner companions wondering why we ignore them in deference to a mechanical device, simply because it rang. And we drive while chatting on our cell phone, oblivious to the heightened risk we cause ourselves and others (found statistically comparable to driving drunk).

Yes, we are wizards of intricate technology; but now it is time to develop the etiquette to match. If we're not well bred and thoughtful enough to turn off our cell phones while we're driving, in a restaurant or at the movies, some authority will step in and do it for us. For we must be more discrete in our use of technology around others. It is time.

Susan Paslov is a retired attorney who teaches English as a Second Language. She is

married, with three children and one grandchild.


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