New technologies always create new interpersonal challenges, especially when initial enthusiasm causes people to lose sight of where and how certain boundaries should be drawn. This post shares recent articles that address some of the digital dilemmas that new technologies create and raises questions about how they should be addressed. Please share your thoughts!
Over the past couple months the New York Times has published a number of articles that address issues arising from the impact of digital technology on interpersonal interactions. These articles can be grouped into two categories: Ethics and Etiquette and Digital Detoxing. Although the issues primarily relate to our personal lives, they have implications for our professional lives as well.
Below I provide links and a brief introduction to each article and share a number of questions that the articles raise. I know where I stand on most of these questions, so I’m more interested in hearing what others think. Please share your thoughts on the issues and questions that resonate most with you. Thanks!
- Courtney Shelton Hunt
Ethics and Etiquette
Social and digital technologies create a number of ethical and etiquette challenges. These four articles and their accompanying (often passionate!) comments highlight some of them:
Background Checks and Personal Ethics in the Age of Google: Do you do digital background checks on folks (i.e., “google” them) before you meet them in person? Kate Fox, a social anthropologist, says “It’s perfectly natural and almost always appropriate,” explaining “… our brains haven’t changed since the Stone Age, and humans are designed to live in small groups in which everyone knows one another. Googling is an attempt to recreate a primeval, preindustrial pattern of interaction.” Not everyone agrees, however, that it’s a universally appropriate practice.
Let Your Smartphone Deliver the Bad News (115 comments): True or false: “Texting and instant messaging make it easier to navigate our social lives, but they are also turning us into ill-mannered flakes.” Mobile devices enable us to “micro-coordinate,” or adjust plans in real time based on changing circumstances. This fluidity offers a number of benefits, to be sure… but for some the ease and speed with which we can communicate – combined with the impersonal nature of the medium – can lead to disrespectful and potentially unethical behaviors.
Disruptions: Seeking Privacy in a Networked Age (39 comments): Even if you’re not digitally engaged, your activities can be – and likely are – shared with others in cyberspace. So much social sharing certainly raises privacy issues, but it also creates important ethical considerations.
When Phones Come Out Long Before the Turkey (59 comments): Armed with digital devices, holiday celebrations often take place on two planes simultaneously: the earth and the cloud. For decades we’ve been interrupting social events to document the moment (by taking photos and shooting films and videos), as well as to include other people in them (via recorded messages, phone calls, and now Skype and FaceTime). What’s different now, though, is that these disruptions and the related sharing are happening in real time: captured moments are posted to cyberspace in mere seconds.
These pieces raise a number of important questions:
- Does being digitally connected enhance or detract from our interpersonal interactions?
- How appropriate are digital background checks? Are they equally valid for both personal and professional relationships? Where should the lines be drawn in terms of what you check and where, and how deeply you research someone? How much should we reveal about what we’ve learned about others from cyberspace?
- Does real-time digital technology not only facilitate but encourage rudeness, disrespect, and a lack of courtesy?
- Are privacy concerns irrelevant? Are we heading to a future (as some predict) where they will be?
- Should social sharing be forbidden at certain social events? Or should there perhaps be “digitally dark” periods in which sharing is not allowed? And who should make those calls: the host(s) acting unilaterally, or collectively with guests?
- Should people who are digitally engaged ask permission before sharing photos and other information about others? Or is it the responsibility of each of us to inform others where our privacy lines are drawn and what our personal cyber boundaries are?
- Do we need a technology solution that allows us to digitally “cloak” ourselves? Will it help?
“Digital detoxing” – the idea of cutting oneself off from modern communications technology for a period of time – can be either planned or unintentional. Both types are addressed in these three articles and their accompanying comments:
A School Distanced From Technology Faces Its Intrusion: Students who attend Mountain School, where simplicity is valued over technology, have traditionally experienced a connection-free existence while they’re there. This is by design, of course, but it’s also due to the simple logistical fact that cell reception in the remote area is virtually nonexistent. Now that fiber optic cable is being laid, however, the school and its students have to develop a new approach that acknowledges the digital temptations and distractions that will soon be as ever-present here as they are in the places these students have come to escape.
How New Yorkers Adjusted to Sudden Smartphone Withdrawal (67 comments): In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, many residents were forced to deal with a lack of access to communications technology. The impact for some was described by Kartik Sankar, 29, a technology consultant who lives in the East Village: “Not having hot water is one thing. But not having a phone? Forget about it.” Obviously, for most it was just an inconvenience and hardly on par with the true hardship others faced, but “the experience of being suddenly smartphoneless caused some to realize just how dependent on the technology they had become.”Hurricane Sandy Reveals a Life Unplugged: For children (aka digital natives), “the storm provided a rare glimpse of a life lived offline.” It “also produced some unexpected ammunition for parents already eager to curb the digital obsessions of their children.” Although many families initially embraced low-tech entertainment, togetherness, and quality time, their enthusiasm waned as withdrawal kicked in.
Important questions raised by these articles include:
- How crucial is digital technology to modern life? Is it always essential?
- Do digital devices empower or enslave us?
- Does being digitally connected in effect separate us from the world around us?
- Do we need to engage in digital detoxing? If so, when, and under what circumstances? And is it more important for some people than others?
- Should digital detoxes be forced on us, or can individuals be trusted to manage their detoxing needs (if any) on their own?
- What specific responsibilities do parents have to manage the digital diets of their children?
- Does denial simply lead to greater desire?
As I said in the introduction, I know where I stand on most of these questions. I’m interested in hearing what others think. Please share your thoughts on the issues and questions that resonate most with you. Thanks!