Is social media accelerating an already unacceptable level
of rude behavior?
After discussing the use of Twitter during presentations on
last week’s Media Bullseye Radio Roundtable, I couldn’t stop thinking about the
crossword puzzle analogy used on NPR that I referenced on the show. For those
who haven’t had the time to listen to the Radio Roundtable yet (especially since it clocked in at
40 minutes, yikes), NPR last week had an in-depth examination of email: how we
use it, how it has changed business, and so on. Following an exchange on
constant BlackBerry checking, the interviewee suggested a quick check for
appropriateness. “Think of pulling out a crossword puzzle,” he said. “If it
wouldn’t be appropriate for you to pull out a crossword puzzle at that moment, then it’s
probably not appropriate for you to be checking your email.”
I feel the same holds true for using Twitter–sometimes it’s
just downright rude to be tweeting instead of paying attention. Truth be told,
I feel the same way about cell phones…people yacking away at the table in
restaurants is one of my biggest pet peeves.
is reporting that a restaurant owner in New York is banning photography from
his restaurant–I have to admit, I love reading food blogs and seeing pictures
of the food, but perhaps whipping a camera out and clicking a bunch of pictures
while others are dining isn’t the most polite thing to do either.
One of the primary characteristics of being rude is the
simple lack of understanding how your behavior impacts those around you. I
think people are rarely intentionally rude, it’s usually accidental and caused
in large part by being unaware of what’s going on around them. If you are
standing in the middle of the escalator, talking on your cell phone in a busy
place, you are focused on the conversation instead of the people trying to walk
up the escalator (another pet peeve of mine: honestly folks, stand to the
right, walk on the left).
Talking on cell phone + standing on escalator
blocking people = rude. Barreling past
people on escalator without saying “excuse me” = also rude. Tapping away on
laptop at seminar (disturbing those around you) = rude.
Tweeting/talking/carrying on while others are trying to pay attention = rude. Checking
your email at the dinner table while your dining companions are talking = rude.
The common thread between all of these rude behaviors is not taking into
consideration what your actions imply to those around you. In each case, the
message sent is: what I’m doing is more important than what you are doing. I’ve been guilty of the checking email thing, but I’m going cold turkey, using the crossword puzzle analogy as my guide.
Is being this inattentive new? Of course not. But I do feel
that as many of the tools we now have to make our lives easier have become more
common, the presence of laptops and cell phones in restaurants and seminars
(and just about everywhere else) has become accepted. If the tools are there,
people will use them.
Is this wise? No. Even if you think you are great at
multi-tasking, the brain can only process so much at a time. The Visual Cognition Laboratory at the University of Illinois has conducted
studies on “change blindness,” and “inattentional blindness.” I first saw these
videos during an episode of Dateline NBC, and was recently reminded of them
when Laura Fitton (aka, Pistachio) pointed to them on Twitter. (I was NOT in a
seminar or other setting that required my undivided attention at the time.) It’s
worth going to the site and watching some of the video
demonstrations of these studies. Bottom line: if you are trying to pay attention to more
than one thing at a time, you are likely missing something.
So, what does this mean for communications professionals?
It’s important to stay on top of the latest trends and tools
being used in social media. Your clients expect it, and as the utilization of
these tools moves from early adoption to mainstream use, it will be critical to
have an understanding of which tools are appropriate for which audience.
It becomes a problem when the use of all of these tools
leads to inattention and loss of focus. Bill Sledzik had a great post
the other day that touched on this, when discussing the incredible focus
demonstrated by athletes. He writes “[…] Do you think Rocco is a multitasker
with a Blackberry? Do you suppose his computer pings him each time an email
arrives? Does Tiger Twitter between holes? And how often does he check his
I would argue that these two golfers are successful because
they are singularly focused on the game. And that type of focus is becoming increasingly
rare as social media tools become more commonly used, which is unfortunate. (If
you want to learn what real focus is, read the David
Brooks op-ed that Sledzik links to. Wow.)
Divided attention causes mistakes, details are missed. The
most unfortunate part is that this lack of focus is a disservice to clients,
who deserve to have PR practitioners who take the time to pay attention and
think things through. Great ideas can
come from rested, calm minds. Distracted minds send bad
pitches to the wrong
people. They make spelling and
grammatical errors–embarrassing ones, on blog posts where clients (and their
moms and former English teachers) can see them.
At the heart of being a good PR practitioner is the ability to listen. You need to listen to your clients, your target audience, and especially to those who are criticizing your client. If your attention isn’t focused, are you really listening?
I’m not suggesting all PR pros need to pull a Thoreau and go
all Walden Pond or anything. (Although I do recommend yoga, great for
increasing focus and balance, along with a bunch of other health benefits.) When
was the last time you experienced quiet? No radio, no cell phone, no music, not
in front of the computer…just quiet with your thoughts? It’s amazing how much clarity
and calm can come from stillness.