Friday, April 18, 2008

Social Media Etiquette In Real Life

This post follows a heated debate that took place in my apartment last night about social media etiquette in real world settings. The players/positions:
  • Me: on the defense of new standards in social media etiquette in the real world
  • My boyfriend, James: on the offense against social media, in support of traditional real world etiquette
  • My roommate, Allie: referee, on the fence
The debate started when we were sitting on the couch watching TV. Of course I had my laptop open, scanning Twitter, searching Facebook - just generally surfing the InterWeb. James gave me that "put your laptop away" look, which sparked the discussion.

I posed the question of what is acceptable and what isn't in real-word social interactions now that mobile Web devices are gaining such an increasing presence. James is very traditional about etiquette. If we're out to dinner, he's totally a hats-off-at-the-table, no-cell-phone-in-sight kinda guy. Although I agree there are certain standards of etiquette that shouldn't be pushed, I'm a little bit more open to a less strict set of rules.

Still, how much is too much when we're reconsidering these standards? Is sipping a latte at a coffee shop with a friend a setting casual enough to whip out your phone to send a tweet? Are instant message conversations on your laptop during a class lecture a no-no?

Obviously it depends on the situation, the audience and the setting. At social media panels and conferences, the above practices are completely acceptable and even encouraged. People are caught on their laptops, Blackberries and iPhones live-tweeting and spreading information. In my New Media and PR class yesterday, I relayed a tweet from @TDefren to my class and professor, and it was perfectly cool.

But what about when we're hanging out with our friends who aren't as social media friendly as we are? When I brought up that coffee shop/cell phone scenario to James, it practically made him cringe. Does this mean we should only save public tweeting for when we are around our social media friends? And even when we are around only our social media friends, do we still run the risk of seeming disrespectful?

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Personally I, like Allie, am on the fence.


Aaron White said...

Interesting post... I've often thought when someone answers their cellphone in front of you it sends the indication "This conversation is going to be more important than you" (particularly offensive if they aren't sure who the call is coming from)

On the other hand, I'm ok personally w/ texting/twittering (granted I'm into social media). My less savvy friends (and yes, I believe there's an ordering) are upset by this.

The difference to me at least, is the interruption factor. Cell phone conversations are not inclusive. Texting isn't as bad, presumably you can still listen & multi-task, and your voice isn't interrupting the group. In a lot of ways, I see it as turning your head to share an aside with someone who is only virtually present.

I hope my less savvy friends get over themselves ;-) I don't think I'll change anytime soon....

pamelump said...

Point well taken. I like your point of view that texting during conversation is like "turning your head to share an aside with someone who is only virtually present." I'm totally using that next time as a defense!

Kate said...

I, too, am on the fence with this one. I come from a pretty traditional etiquette-style upbringing--my mother still finds it weird that cell phones are allowed to be used in a sorority dining room. So yes, I'm with Aaron on the "this call is more important than our conversation" angle. However, if I am in a one-on-one conversation with someone and they are texting the entire time, I tend to get annoyed.

Maybe I'm not fully into the Twitter thing yet, but I don't forsee any urgent need to Tweet. Yes, social media conferences are one thing, as they spur commentary, but sitting at Starbucks with a friend is something different.

I think of it this way: if my social media actions could cause me to lose my friends-in-real-life, then they can be put on hold for a hot minute.

James said...

I agree with Kate's comment. I understand that texting may be much less intrusive but it is still sending the vibe that the conversation you are having is not that important.
Comparing it to "turning your head to share" to someone is very true. My problem that is if I am speaking to someone and they continue to turn their head to have a second conversation it seems near rude.
Don't get me wrong I am an adamant texter, but I believe nothing can replace actual conversation between people.

Allison said...

I'm 22 and I work in digital media at a PR agency, so Twitters and Facebook messages and IMs are a part of my life and communication toolbox.

That said, I think if you brought out your cell/Blackberry to tweet while I was talking *to* you, I would find it horrible rude and would tell you to put it down. I have a friend who twice the other night chatted away on her cell phone while I was sitting right there, with me twiddling my thumbs waiting for her to stop. Likewise with a laptop. If we weren't talking to each other (such as if I was watching TV and my boyfriend was on his laptop) or if one of us went to the bathroom, I totally wouldn't mind it because obviously I'm not paying attention to him either.

I think if you are with someone, you should be *with* the person. There is no "casual enough". My time is valuable and if you find the Internet more important, than go right ahead. I'll find someone else to hang out with.

Now, I'll make the exception of "If you ask me nicely, I'll probably say yes." Another friend of mine always nicely asks me if she can answer her phone if it rings. And I nicely reply, "Of course." It's courtesy. She respects my time and my feelings by asking.

You know what they say about assumptions...

pamelump said...

It's occurred to me that by blogging about social media etiquette I might not get the feedback from those non-social media people I reference in my post. Survey your friends about the issue and report back!

uniquefrequency said...

Wow GREAT conversation! I gotta admit to stopping to tweet over dinner if I have wifi around. And if I'm with my girlfriend my laptop is open occasionally, depending on what we're doing (and I get the exact same looks).

I feel it's okay with people you know. I was just at dinner with two very old friends and they saw me punching away on my ipod touch keyboard replying and email and they just mock my inability to live un-connected.

But if I'm meeting someone for the first time, I might be a little more careful. I know that I can multi-task and pay attention to them as well as my phone, but they can very easily (and reasonably) interpret it as being rude.

J.J. Toothman said...

I've had similar wonderings about this topic recently. Triggered by growing incidents of folks bringing laptops to meetings and having other conversations during that meeting on Twitter or IM. And, of course, conference backchannels on Meebo/Twitter is now part of the core fabric of these events, even influencing the content of the conference (SXSW Zuckerberg keynote for example).

The question I have is if this usage of social media in such scenarios is taking away or enhancing the true content. If I was a speaker and saw everyone's heads buried in their laptops and iPhones, I'd probably take offense.

I think we're close to seeing "no laptops allowed" events. And in fact, I've been at meetings where the meeting coordinator has started things off with "can you please close your laptops now".

Certainly, I'm not trying to call anyone out. I'm guilty of doing all of the above.

Aaron White said...

Great discussion! I'll clarify my "aside" comment from above: generally I do this when in a group, not during one-on-ones. I agree if you're with someone one-one-one it's definitely rude (like eye-rolling or snoring). I guess I can't be so hard-lined about it: you do have to temper your activity based on your particular group, if you want to be practical about it. (I have gotten in *massive* trouble for texting/email during girlfriends' family functions. Constructive advice: sneak away to the bathroom if you must tweet!)

But to be 'theoretical' about it, ultimately I think people at large will have to adjust to meet the net-connected somewhere in the middle. I have a methaphor I use for the best Internet technologies: they are like superpowers. Twitter is like psychic communication, Facebook is like a social sixth-sense, Google maps like scrying, etc.

If I you were hanging out w/ Superman, you'd have to get comfortable with the fact that he's listening in on some conversation happening in China. The more connected we get, the more 'psychic' we get, the more this will be the norm, and not the exception Pamela has to wonder about :)

J.J. Toothman said...

Wondering...if Superman and Clark Kent were each on Twitter, would they follow each other?

incidentally, before hitting submit I checked. Neither has any followers. no updates either.

So sad, because when that earthquake hits northern california it would help if i could check Superman's latest Tweet. That way I'd know if I should count on him to come save me from the dam thats about to burst or if should just count on his whole "reverse earths rotation to go back in time" routine.

ok, sorry for taking this conversation into this comic territory. Theres good talk here. But I've got case of the Fri-days.

pamelump said...

No worries - J.J. I love this new social media superhero idea. It's got me thinking about what my social media superpower might be, which (you are correct) makes for good end of the Friday workday daydreaming.

I'll be sure to blog about it when I figure it out ...

Kathy S. said...

I'm answering the call for a non-social media person. And I'm also of a totally different generation. This issue of ignoring the person you're with to chat with someone not present is akin to the call-waiting scenario: You're having a perfectly fine conversation and the other person gets the call-waiting beep and says to you," Sorry, I have another call." I agree with Allison, that it's just commmon courtesy to excuse yourself while you tell (text) the third party that you'll get back to them later. O.K. I do concede that it does,too, depend on who you're with and what they perceive as rudeness. But isn't it also similar to being at a party and talking to someone who is constantly scanning the room seemingly to look for someone more interesting to talk to? So this is just, after all, a more current manifestation of a common social rudeness.

James said...

I think it really depends on your relationship to the person you're with. If you're long lost friends and having dinner or something, I'd probably keep the phone away.

If you're with someone for a regular sort of hang out time, I'd probably not mind as long as I'm still included in conversation/doing stuff. As with everything, there are balances to have I guess.