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Role Of Technology, Effects On Etiquette

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As of the end of 2004, it is estimated that 180 million Americans were wireless subscribers and had talked a total of 1.1 trillion minutes, up one third from the end of 2003 (Humphreys). These social trends are significant as the statistics show how prevalent the use of technology such as cell phones has become in modern day societies. Cell phones now come equipped with multiple functions, with one device replacing the functions formally performed by several. The convenience offered by cell phones has promoted their now ubiquitous usage. Cell phones now seem to be involved in every aspect of people’s daily lives as multitasking grows in popularity especially amongst the new generation of young adults. In light of these factors it is important to explore the role of cell phones in terms of the potential erosion of social norms and interpersonal communication skills that could possibly result in an increasing tendency of people to interact with their hand held devices instead of communicating with those around them.

A study conducted by Cook, Lesch, Lipscomb, and Totten focused on cell phone etiquette specifically among college students. Their findings were based on a survey designed to outline out what behaviour is considered appropriate and inappropriate as part of establishing the existence social norms regarding the use of cell phones amongst this segment of the population. Social norms are standards of expected “behaviour maintained by a society”; though some are formal and have been written down specifying strict rules others are informal in that they are “generally understood but not precisely recorded” (Schaefer 70). The researchers examined the perceived appropriateness of the use of cell phones, using a scale to determine the agreement, disagreement or ambivalence of participant opinion under specific circumstances; what was found to be completely inappropriate by the respondents was the use of cell phones when in the company of others, in the library or in the classroom (Cook).

Social norms dictate that there are there are unspoken yet generally understood rules about certain behaviours and they set limits and boundaries for what actions are tolerated by society and what is not considered to be appropriate. Cook found that there are contexts in which individuals have “expectations of quietude”, circumstance under which most conversations would be considered rude, as they are disturbing to others. But such expectations appeared to apply to a lesser extent when in public domains such as while using public transportation or being in a store, where it seems that people have less hesitations about cell phone usage (Cook). This brings up the question of where it is socially acceptable to use cell phones.

These findings broach the issue of the boundaries between private and public space and where they overlap. A study done by Lee Humphreys pertains to the use of cell phones and public interactions. This study concentrates on how cell phones have changed social norms of interactions in public spaces (Humphreys). His research also attempts to prove the idea that “technological advances play a role in reshaping nonmaterial culture with effects on culture and social interactions” (Schaefer 567). For example, instead visiting a friend face to face to see how they are doing, a phone call or text message is used. He suggests that cell phones are commonly used to avoid interactions with the public (Humphreys). This research goes to prove the notion that cell phones have caused personal relationships to become more distant and impersonal.

Along the lines of eroding social skills caused by the increasing dependence on cell phones, there have been incidents where observers encountered “fake calls”- where students pretend to be using their phone in an attempt to avoid contact with others or to not appear lonely (Cook). Some sociologists argue that technology weakens social skills resulting in isolation when it is used to avoid human interaction. Another telling example is found when passenger behaviour in taxis is examined. A passenger is most likely to use a cellular device while in the alone in the backseat of the taxi in the evening, and the highest rate of usage is reported when a gender or racial difference between the driver and passenger exists (Bungum).

Although there is mounting evidence to prove that cell phones cause changes in the manner people interact, it is not unanimously agreed how they have such a profound impact on a skill that is not only seen as natural but also paramount to human ability to survive. To explain this phenomenon some sociologists argue that “mobile phones pit the priorities of the вЂ?in’ group вЂ" those on the phone вЂ" against those in the вЂ?out’ group, or people in close proximity to the talkers” (Cook). Other sociologists who have argued that a person’s sense of community is generally “bound to a physical location and thought to be public, not private” also support this view. It is argued that technologies like computers and mobile phones вЂ?destroy’ physical space, and thus community, by breaking down the distinction between what is public and what is private (Cook). Though Cook discovered circumstances under which it was found to be socially unacceptable



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