Thursday 27 November 2014

We're letting technology turn us into rude, thoughtless zombies

Published 10/09/2013 | 05:00

It is the norm now when in company to be distracted by some device
It is the norm now when in company to be distracted by some device

The world is in the midst of a technological revolution that is threatening to spawn a generation of bad-mannered digital devils.

Our lives are being ruled by hand-held devices and we are scrambling to keep up with the mesmerising number of new gadgets influencing our communication habits and day-to-day household routines.

It is the norm now when in company to be distracted by some device that is going ping, ping, ping, or vibrating annoyingly in someone's pocket.

I am no technological genius but it is likely that in 20 years' time the world will be one global wi-fi hotspot, with all of us connected wherever we go through a multitude of different channels.

By the end of the year it is estimated that 1.3 million Irish people – or over a third of the population – will have access to a tablet. As it is, over half of us have a smartphone. And 45pc of us admit to being addicted to social media sites, fanatically checking social networking apps for updates.

While technology is great, the latest handsets and other mobile devices are unfortunately making us ruder. Our manners are being wrecked by phones, laptops, and tablets.

It has given rise to a "phubbing" – phone snubbing – where we check emails or reply to text messages rudely while in the company of colleagues or friends. I declare myself guilty here. I am working on it.

Yesterday, a new Irish study confirmed what we already knew – that we are now engaging with technology in an unprecedented way.

The scary thing is we are not only absorbed with one device at a time. The Eircom Household Sentiment Survey revealed that media stacking – using more than one online gadget at the same time – is now the norm for three-quarters of those aged between 16 and 24.

It is not just enough now to sit down and watch the television, but we must post or tweet on different topics while viewing the box, bringing multi-tasking to a new level altogether.

And what about apps? Our lives are increasingly governed and ruled by our reliance on them as a tool for modern living. We have apps to help us cook, apps to help us keep up with the news and sport, apps to help us find directions and even apps to help us lose weight!

In fact, the average number of apps on Irish mobile devices is 21, with respondents admitting to only using seven on a regular basis.

In this ever-evolving digital age, we need to focus on two important things. Etiquette and safety.

The Eircom findings reveal that almost nine out of 10 do not use parental control on TV channels. But protecting our young people and keeping them safe in the face of unstoppable global technological developments is the responsibility of all of us.

A quick check online (on one of my many devices) shows that there is no excuse for being lax as there are a multitude of sites out there to help keep us safe.

You can buy TV and video game time managers, automatically limiting the time children spend watching TV or playing video games on computers.

There are "profanity filters" to block certain content from TV, DVD, satellite and cable channels. And it is possible to install an internet filter where one router in the house will screen content on laptops, PCs, gaming devices, iPods and smart TVs.

And what about manners? The increased usage of digital devices is changing how we behave and interact with each other. A growing reliance on text messaging, email and social networking sites is stunting the development of basic face-to-face communication skills, especially among young people.

Last week, the British modern etiquette guide, Debrett's, raised concern about the consequences of digital devices on our social skills.

It found that basic manners and ability to interact have gone downhill in the last 20 years, with mobile phones and tablet devices actively encouraging rudeness.

And while we have no problem creating a profile on a social networking site, we are not as confident about facing people in person.

Debrett's said that people's performance in job interviews is suffering and many of us would not know what writing a letter is. And if we did it would be littered with misspellings.

So concerned is Debrett's – renowned for its expertise on the British aristocracy and manners – it is running special training courses for young people to give them confidence to deal with old-fashioned face-to-face communication.

Technological change is to be welcomed. Once we remember to stay safe – and not to turn into a society of zombies ruled by hand-held devices.

Irish Independent

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