I like technology, but it confuses me. Not how to use it, but how to handle the users. If a man is wandering through Wal-Mart talking to the atmosphere in an agitated fashion, is he a psychotic maniac waiting to explode, or a guy arguing with his ex-wife on his Bluetooth? Is that kid in the third row of history class really just looking down deep in thought, or is he Googling answers on his I-phone? When the cell phone with the 1812 Overture ringtone goes off in the theater right in front of me, should I be thankful that neurosurgeons are so responsive to human need, or smack the rude beggar whose Twitter feed just went off?
Today, it’s office etiquette. Our clerk is staring at her computer, muttering softly, earbuds in place. Is she [a] working on that project I asked her to do, [b] talking down an irate parent on the phone, or [c] just listening to the Grateful Dead? I need to talk to her. Do I interrupt? I simply don’t know! I was reared not to interrupt another person’s phone call, except by polite visual signalling and waiting until she hangs up. I also hate to interrupt the concentration of a person hard at work. And Human Resources has convinced us all that touching another person in the workplace will result in our immediately being shot, jailed, and fired, in that order. But if all our clerk is doing is grooving on Jerry Garcia, I need her attention. Trouble is, I can’t tell which is really going on, so I just stand there with my elbow halfway up my arm at her cubicle, hoping she’ll psychically sense my foreboding aura. What is the etiquette for dealing with the earbud-isolated?
I asked a college student for guidance, and he offered the following: if a person is staring down at his phone, but his lips aren’t moving, you are allowed to speak to him. If his lips are moving, he’s in conversation. Or dictating to his blog. Or making notes. So, it would be only polite to wait. Unless he’s just singing along with YouTube. Then you can butt in.
So it has come down to this– with all the communication technology at hand, the only way I can politely communicate with a person who is standing next to me staring at his phone is to stare at him myself… and read his lips. Which seems quite invasive and not a little creepy.
Or I could just pull out my Blackberry and call him myself.