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How Technology Affects Etiquette And Social Interaction

How Technology Affects Etiquette And Social Interaction
What are the effects of technology such as Facebook, Twitter, texting and email on social interaction and etiquette? We speak with technology etiquette expert, Elaine Swann and experts on social networks, James Fowler and Noah Arceneaux about the relationship between new technology and social behavior.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Technology is developing at such a tremendous pace that many of us are being constantly amazed at the new things our gadgets can do. But while we're trying to learn to use that new iPhone app or touch screen computer, we may overlook the larger issue of how all of this technology is changing human interaction. When does text and phone multi-tasking change from efficient to rude? When is it proper for social network picture friends to ask each other to LMIRL or let's meet in real life. And now that it's possible to be in constant contact, when should we just say goodbye? The proper use and etiquette of technology, social networks and social media is our topic this hour. And I’d like to welcome my guests. James Fowler is professor at UCSD and co-author of the book, “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.” James, welcome to These Days.

JAMES FOWLER (Political Science Professor, University of California San Diego): Thanks, I’m happy to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Noah Arceneaux is professor of media studies at SDSU. Noah, welcome to These Days.

NOAH ARCENEAUX (Media Studies Professor, San Diego State University): Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And Elaine Swann, 21st century etiquette expert. She’s written for Modern Bride magazine, Essence magazine, and Exquisite Weddings Magazine. Elaine, how are you?

ELAINE SWANN (Etiquette Expert): I am well. Thank you. Happy to be here today.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for joining us. We’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Is new technology allowing people to behave badly in ways they’d never do face to face? Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to how people are using new technology and social networks? Give us a call with your questions and comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. So social networking sites, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, James, give us an idea, how are people using these sites to connect with other people, friends and family.

FOWLER: Well, it’s really remarkable because I think that this is the first time that people have been so aware at how interconnected they are with so many other people. You know, but these networks, they aren’t really – they’re not new. We’ve always had friends, we’ve always had family members, and for hundreds of thousands of years we’ve evolved to really learn how to live in these webs of humanity. And what the net really is doing is it’s helping us to see because of these webs and helping us to stay more in contact with people that we wouldn’t otherwise have a strong relationship with.

CAVANAUGH: So let me start out with a sort of big picture question to everyone. Let me start with you, James, and we’ll kind of go around. Let – What’s your analysis of the question do you think that the new technology is changing the way we interact with each other?

FOWLER: Well, we like to say in our – my book with the – Nicholas Christakis that things are now different but the same. And it sounds very, very trite but in one sense they’re the same because we’re still constrained by the way we feel about these people and those feelings are often developed offline and – but one way in which things are different is that these friends of friends and these friends of friends of friends are people that we now can kind of keep tabs on. It’s sort of like on Facebook, every day’s a wedding, right? You’re able to see those people that you only are vaguely aware of being connected to the people that you’re very closely connected to.

CAVANAUGH: That’s very true. And, Noah, what’s your take on that?

ARCENEAUX: I think I would agree with a similar sentiment, that, you know, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I see electronic communications as developing along a continuum and social networks and Web 2.0 are sort of the latest iteration of this continuum but things that people have said about electronic communication, things that they say about it today, people have been saying for at least 100 years if not more so. This is just the latest example of it.

CAVANAUGH: So, in other words, people were saying social interaction was going to hell in a handbag when they started making phone calls?



ARCENEAUX: Or with – Thoreau has some famous comments about the telegraph, that so what if Texas and Maine can communicate, perhaps they have nothing important to say to one another. Which, to me, seems very similar to the way people want to malign Twitter or Facebook of, oh, yeah, you can communicate with everybody but it’s such meaningless, trivial conversation. But over time, we learned to use the telegraph, we learned to use the telephone, we integrated radio. Television was going to destroy social interaction, remember that? Now, it’s Web 2.0. But we’ve adopted, we’ve learned how to use all these things and I think, ultimately, anything that allows you to communicate freely and stay in touch with people ultimately is good. You know, you might not initially see it—and we’re seeing some resistance to that, people sort of unaccustomed to it—but I think ultimately it is good and I would say that things develop along a continuum. Web 2.0 is just sort of the latest version of it.

CAVANAUGH: And, Elaine, as an etiquette expert, I’m wondering what delights you and what horrifies you about the way people are contacting each other and communicating with each other in this social network on the internet.

SWANN: One of the things that happens, in my opinion, I think because of the fact that we can kind of hide or sit, you know, behind our computers screen, some individuals have a tendency to share information that they might not otherwise share if they were standing face to face with someone. And so, in my opinion, I think, you know, technology is definitely good because one of the things that it’s doing is it’s keeping us connected but at the same time we’re a little bit disconnected and so that disconnect is where people sometimes make that social faux pas with sharing just a little bit too much information.

CAVANAUGH: And, you know, that faux pas aspect of technology is very essential when it comes to interactions in the workplace. What would be some suggestions that you have about how people should use networking in the workplace, and technology in general?

SWANN: Yeah, in my opinion, I think one of the things that we should definitely, absolutely do, especially when it comes to technology in the workplace, is find out what our work rules are. For example, in some offices when everyone comes in for a meeting, the rule may be, you know, no texting, no computers, no, you know, laptops or anything like that. There are times when we do have to absolutely use them, for example many of us have our calendars in our phone or in our PDA or what have you, but if the work rules say put those things down, then follow the rules because when you don’t follow the rules then that’s when you’re putting yourself and your job at risk. I think in the workplace one of the things that we can do is definitely think about what we’re doing on our computers even. Not long ago, I think it was just last year, we had a person right here in San Diego who was fired. I think it was a city councilperson fired from his job from – because of the different websites that he was searching online. I mean, that doesn’t kind of put away the person, the nosy person who reported him and was being nosy and looking over his shoulder but at the same time because of the websites he was visiting, he ended up losing his job. So check with your workplace rules first.

CAVANAUGH: We are speaking about the proper use, etiquette and power of technology, social networks, and social media. My guests are Elaine Swann, James Fowler and Noah Arceneaux, and we’re inviting you to participate. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. James, how have – We just talked a little bit about the workplace. How have online social networks affected personal relationships?

FOWLER: Well, it’s interesting because one of the things that we’ve studied quite extensively is how one person can influence another person. And I think there’s this idea, especially there’s this holy grail for marketers that now that we’re all so hyper-connected online, that if you can just find that one person who has a thousand friends then you’re going to get them to use your product and get all of their thousand friends to use their product and then each of their thousand friends so soon you have a million people using your product. And what we’re finding is that contrary to that idea is that really the only people that have an influence on you are the people that you have real world social connections with. And so, for example, on Facebook when we look to see if there are similarities between you and another person you’re connected to, we only find that if you’ve uploaded and then tagged a picture of that person.

CAVANAUGH: You know, some people I know, I hear them complain that, you know, you used to be able to leave work and it was over, you know. I mean, occasionally you’d get a phone call from work telling you to come in early or something but it was over. Now, it’s sort of like 24/7, and I wonder, Noah, if you could talk to us a little bit about how these technologies are blurring the lines between the professional aspect of a person’s life and the person aspects of people’s lives.

ARCENEAUX: I think I’ll go back to history since that’s usually what I do.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.

ARCENEAUX: That electronic means of communication typically blur distinctions between public and private. It’s hard to imagine but at one time, you know, the home was truly a private sphere, truly distinct, and actually telephone calls were something that society had to figure out how to negotiate. Was it acceptable for a single, unmarried woman, for example, to accept a phone call?


ARCENEAUX: Previously, you had to see the person face to face and if you saw them face to face, you could look at are they the right skin color? Do their clothes look – are they the right class? This is the Victorian era that we’re talking about. Well, suddenly a phone call sort of negates all those cues. Well, obviously, we’ve learned to adapt to phone calls and figured out rules to accept that. Jumping forward several decades, the cell phone really blurred the distinction between public and private. You had the ultimate freedom, you could work anywhere. Well, of course, your boss could reach you anywhere. And I think the cell phone issue is something we’re still negotiating and trying to deal with. Where is it acceptable to accept a phone call? In a fancy restaurant, no. In McDonald’s, probably. You know, I mean, it’s what – we’re still trying to negotiate where you can accept a phone call. Bathrooms are still this kind of gray area. Some people feel it’s fine, other people feel it’s quite offensive.

FOWLER: I think it depends on how loud you’re being.

ARCENEAUX: Well, with the social networks, I think we’re kind of getting to that point as well. We’re trying to negotiate, you know, if a friend pokes you on Facebook or e-mails you on Saturday, of course that’s okay. If your boss, if you happen to be a friend with your boss and he contacts you on a Saturday, do you – are you obligated to respond immediately or do you have to wait until Monday at nine o’clock? I think we, as a society, haven’t quite figured out what are the rules, what’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable but, again, I think this is part of the continuum. And I think this blurring of public and private has been going on. Now I think any distinction seems to be purely gone.

CAVANAUGH: And, Elaine, before I ask you specifically about cell phone use in bathrooms…

SWANN: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: …I want to ask you about that question about rules. You know, people used to kind of sort of know what the rules were when it came to returning phone calls or proper use of phones and when to speak personally and when not to speak personally. But I think there’s a lot of questions now because people – I see people talking to themselves, what it looks like, talking to themselves walking down the street, all the time, and, of course, they’re on the phone all the time. So are we actually developing a new set of rules as we go along?

SWANN: You know what, yeah, absolutely. We’re developing a new set of rules as we go along but the thing about it, there’s still a core value that exists that, in my opinion, I think people are missing and that core value is to respect other people. That’s one of what I call my three core values of etiquette, is respect and consideration for others. So, for example, when you’re walking around with the hands-free device, the earpiece in your ear and you kind of look like you are crazy, you know, kind of talking to yourself, you’re really not being respectful of two individuals, one, the person that you’re on the telephone with. Because if someone walks up to you and starts talking to you, the conversation that you’re having with the person on the other end, that conversation gets interrupted. And then the vice versa, the person that’s standing face to face with you, they’re not – they’re no longer your top priority because you’ve got this other person in your ear. Those earpieces, for example, they were developed to be used for when you’re driving. They’re hands free so that way when you’re driving, you can still take a very brief phone call, just brief, while you’re driving so your hands can be free. So they really should not be used when you’re walking around or talking or so forth. I would say in the car or even little private places, for example, maybe you’re in your office or in your cubicle at work, that’s somewhere where you actually can use it. But when you’re out in public, those things should be off and in your pocket, you know, or left in the car. That’s my opinion.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you’ve got a row to hoe there, Elaine, because I see…

SWANN: You’ve got all these people, it’s nuts, you know. People are walking around with this thing stuck to their ear.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, yeah.

SWANN: And, again, they’re disconnected from the world around them. I mean, you know, I’m not surprised we don’t see more, you know, pickpockets and things like that because people are so distracted.

CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you quick before we go to break, how about that cell phone question in the bathroom? Should people…

SWANN: Cell phone in the bathroom is an absolute no for both – I mean, first of all, the person – if you’re in the stall with some – in the bathroom with someone and there’s someone in the stall next to you, they don’t want to have to hear your conversation that’s going on. And the poor person who’s on the phone, they have to hear you doing your business? That’s a big no.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, then…

SWANN: And, well, I’ll talk about the McDonald’s or fancy restaurant when we come back, too.

CAVANAUGH: That sounds great. We do have to take a short break. My guests are Elaine Swann, James Fowler and Noah Arceneaux. We’re talking about the proper use and etiquette of technology, social networks and social media. Our number, if you’d like to join the conversation, is 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Our subject is how to use technology, social networks and social media the right way, the right way that you don’t offend other people and you don’t get yourself in trouble. My guests are James Fowler, he’s a professor at UCSD and co-author of the book, “Connected: The Surprising Power Of Our Social Networks And How They Shape Our Lives." Noah Arceneaux is professor of Media Studies at SDSU, and Elaine Swann is 21st century etiquette expert. And we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Before I start taking some of those calls, James, I wanted to ask you, you know, Elaine was saying that the basics of proper manners, etiquette in using anything, is respect. But do we know what respect means to all people?

FOWLER: No, we don’t and so it’s definitely, I think, is an excellent suggestion for a core value but it can be tricky because just think about how people behave differently by their age. And so people in their thirties, forties and fifties are probably going to be a little bit alienated by these cliques of teenagers now who seem to be having a conversation with each other but also with someone off site. They’re all sort of texting other people at the same time. And to them, this is completely normal, to them this is I’m respecting these other people because what I’m doing is the people can’t be here, I’m including them in the conversation. And so I think that it’s, you know, it’s very easy for us to sort of project our own values onto other people when we’re making a judgment about whether or not what they’re doing is correct or not.

CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Let’s start taking some phone calls. Again, our number is 1-888-895-5727. Rebecca is calling from San Diego. And good morning, Rebecca. Welcome to These Days.

REBECCA (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. First of all, let me tell you that I do not do Facebook or Twitter simply because I would have way too much fun with it and I wouldn’t get my responsibilities done. But my husband is retired Navy and has a civilian job now and the last – he made 8 Westpac cruises and the last two cruises that he made, we were able to do e-mail, and the gentleman that was talking about how there’s always been a pushback against technology whether it was the telegraph or the telephone or whatever, and talking about how it’s all the boring little things, it’s all the boring little things that are the glue. It’s all the things that we could e-mail and say all the fun little things that you couldn’t put in a letter or you were too tired to remember them, that’s what our life is about. And when you’re trying to share that with somebody that is off site, whether it’s a couple of blocks away or 10,000 miles away, that’s what’s important.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that. Thank you for that very much, Rebecca. And you agree, James.

FOWLER: Oh, no, absolutely. People get a little irritated by all of the status updates on Facebook or Twitter, oh, I’m eating breakfast now, I’m getting in the car, I’m, you know, all – It seems very mundane. But this is – if you listen to real world conversations, you know, that’s more than 50% of what we’re saying to each other all the time…


FOWLER: …and that’s how we make real world connections with people.

CAVANAUGH: I had a dream last night, I hate these shoes, that kind of thing.


CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Let me ask…

SWANN: The only…

CAVANAUGH: Yes, go ahead, Elaine.

SWANN: …thing we do need to leave off of that, in my opinion, is the – what I call the BFI, the bodily function information, I think.


SWANN: I think that information should be left off, you know, talking about whether – it’s the woman talking about, you know, what’s happening, you know, menstrual cramps or this or that or you vomited or that, you know, things like that. I think that type of information should be left off. Not everyone needs to know that information. That’s my opinion.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I think that we got some seconds around here to that, too. And on the opposite side of the coin, though, Noah, you say that this constant communication, these constant updates, in a sense being available all the time, has in a way led to an increase in lying.

ARCENEAUX: Yes. This is not my personal theory but I have heard this theory from a few different individuals, that if you are out of – if you didn’t respond to someone for 24 or 48 hours, previously that was normal. Well, now you have to account for that because there’s this sort of expectation of constant availability especially if it’s a spouse. Why didn’t you call me back for a day? Oh, I lost my cell phone battery. You know, maybe you did lose your cell phone battery, maybe you were tired, maybe you just didn’t feel like it. But now there’s – you have to come up with a reason as to why you didn’t respond because any significant gap, if you are anywhere with electricity, what happened?

CAVANAUGH: Right, exactly.

FOWLER: Yeah, for e-mail, it’s always the spam folder, right?


FOWLER: Oh, I’m sorry.

CAVANAUGH: It got diverted. I don’t know what happened.

FOWLER: That’s right.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Paul is calling from Vista. Good morning, Paul, and welcome to These Days.

PAUL (Caller, Vista): And good morning to you. I just wanted to comment on the lady’s comments on the Bluetooth devices on hands free…


PAUL: …that, in fact, she’s incorrect. The hands free device was not invented for the reason she stated. It was invented specifically for use in stressful situations and in multi-tasking by the U.S. military. It was not actually the U.S. military, I believe it was the Israelis that invented it. Secondly, it’s come to my attention that the people who are so adamant about not liking Bluetooth and people not using them and so forth are people that don’t have them and they’ve never tried them and just don’t use them.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let me ask you…

PAUL: And thirdly…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, go ahead.

PAUL: …one last thing…


PAUL: …and then I’ll take my answer or any reply off the air.


PAUL: One last thing, what I find the most irritating and a lot of people that I know do, the utter faux pas when it comes to communication through communications devices is people who do not answer their phone so (audio dropout) the president or CEO of Microsoft or something and every time you call them, you get a message and then they call you back and you end up having to play phone tag with them when you’re trying to call a series of people. And in those cases, that’s where a Bluetooth device comes in the most handy because you can tell someone you’re talking to if you’re holding a conversation, excuse me one second please, and then you can tell the person on the other side, let me call you right back and it’s personal communication and it’s a whole lot more respectful than a recording oftentimes with crazy music in the background and so on.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Paul…

PAUL: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for calling in. And it sounds like if you don’t pick up the phone for Paul you’re going to have some ‘splaining to do. I think we just…

SWANN: I think the – to just – one of the things he said about the Bluetooth piece that, you know, people who don’t have them are usually the ones who don’t use them. I, for example, with me, I do have a Bluetooth and I use that, of course, you know, for when I’m driving or what have you but, again, Paul just gave a perfect example of the difficulty that we have when it comes to communicating effectively with one another. He says you’ve got the Bluetooth on, you’re talking to someone on the phone, someone walks up and you have to stop that conversation and get off the phone with the other person then resume the conversation. Well, how does that person there standing in front of you feel while you’re kind of wrapping up the phone call? And then how does the other person on the other line feel that you’ve just cut their call off because you need to go ahead and talk with someone else. So that’s why it’s important for us to choose to either do one or the other. We’re going to either talk to somebody on the telephone on our cell phone and give them our attention or either talk to the person that’s face to face with us and give them our attention. It’s either one or the other but it’s very, very difficult to do both and so that’s why there’s definitely a distinct choice in the matter. So – but pick up that phone when Paul calls.

CAVANAUGH: And, Elaine – Oh, yeah. And Elaine, let me ask you…

SWANN: Sure.

CAVANAUGH: …on this question of returning calls, you know…


CAVANAUGH: …Noah was just saying, you know, if you don’t return somebody’s call within a few hours, you have to basically have some sort of excuse. What is the – is there any proper rule of thumb to go by in actually returning a call or an e-mail, for that matter?

SWANN: Yeah, when it comes to business, there’s a few distinct things. When it comes to business, you definitely want to be as prompt as possible with getting back to a person. If you are – The great thing that we have is the auto responder. If you’re out of town or not going to be available, you use that auto responder to let individuals know. Now, personally, it’s a little bit different if a – people – we have developed kind of a culture as far as e-mail is concerned. And so you – we can get to know the individuals who have a tendency to respond quickly and some don’t. I can count on and pick off my hand right now people who I know are going to get right back to me as far as e-mail is concerned and people who don’t. The thing about it, the bottom line is you should always respond but if you don’t check your e-mail often and you’re not someone that’s always online, if you start communicating with someone new via e-mail, it’s best to let them know, listen, I don’t always check my e-mail or I don’t always check this box, so if you need me, here’s the alternative way to get to me. But you should always respond. It’s just business wise, you definitely want to get in touch with that person as quickly as possible, and personally you do have just a little bit more time to respond. Are you coming to the party? You know, you respond when they – by the time they ask you to, pretty much that simple.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s hear from Nancy in San Clemente. Good morning, Nancy. Welcome to These Days.

NANCY (Caller, San Clemente): Oh, good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I just wanted to comment about something on Facebook. Somebody mentioned, you know, Facebook, and I think it points to some – a broader cultural issue is that Facebook and the friendships on Facebook seem to make friendship a little superficial. I know people who have a thousand, two thousand friends, quote, unquote, on Facebook. And I often scratch my head about that and wonder are those real friendships? And that makes me wonder about what people’s definitions of friendship is becoming. And I think Facebook – I use Facebook in a way in which if someone asks me to be their friend and I barely recognize them or barely remember them, and I may have met them once or twice 20 years ago, I typically have to do a rather awkward thing and decline their request because I reserve friending someone on Facebook for something a little bit deeper and not so superficial.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that.

NANCY: And that’s my only comment.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that, Nancy, because that brings up a really good topic. James, you were talking about Facebook being now the avenue where we not only keep up with our friends but we keep up with the friends of our friends and their friends and so forth and so on. Does that, as Nancy implies, devalue friendship in a way?

FOWLER: Well, in a sense it’s kind of returning us to the days before our technology even existed. So the 20th century was kind of an anomaly in that we were able to become anonymous in these very large cities where we might have two or three people that we stayed in touch with but by and large, you know, even our next door neighbors had no idea who we are or what we were doing. And what’s happening now in these new online networks is we’re getting together in groups of 100, 200, 300 people just like in the small villages that we always lived in where everybody’s kind of vaguely aware of what everybody else is doing. And so it’s, in some sense, taking us back to our roots, I think, to be in this new electronic online format.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Noah, do you think though like having a thousand friends or thousands of followers on Twitter is – Is there a line, you think, that people should draw?

ARCENEAUX: You know, I think it’s up to each individual. I think different people have different expectations.

SWANN: Umm-hmm.

ARCENEAUX: Some people might want to have a thousand friends. I would agree with the caller. I tend to be a little bit more restrictive, maybe not quite so restrictive. But I think it all gets down to each person, and there is definitely, I think, a generational difference as well. You mentioned that earlier. I think the younger generations or especially the very young generations, which I’m quite curious about, children who are – not only have they grown up entirely with the internet but they will grow up entirely with Facebook and social networks. You know, they may be in elementary school now. How will they feel when they get to become adults? For them, it might be completely normal to have a thousand friends and it might seem unusual not to. So I think each person has kind of their own expectation.

CAVANAUGH: That’s fascinating.

SWANN: Absolutely. I agree.

CAVANAUGH: And, Elaine, I’m wondering, though, are there any sort of rights and wrongs when it comes to this awkward thing of either denying someone a friending, leaving them in friend limbo there, you know, or defriending someone?

SWANN: Or de – Yeah, well, you know, here’s the thing. I absolutely agree with what Noah was just saying. It’s – It depends on the individual themselves and their expectations. If someone wants to, for example, friend you on Facebook or one of the other sites or what have you, the company itself has developed a mechanism for you to make that choice, to do so or not so you can just choose that ignore button. I think it’s the only button we have on Facebook to use is ‘ignore.’ So you can just ignore that person. My advice is to not get into anything more than that. Some people feel they have to kind of explain to the person why, you know, well, I don’t want to be friends with you because back in 4th grade you did this or what have you. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to engage that person at all. Just completely ignore them and leave it at that. That’s what has been developed as far as this program is concerned. Now there are times when you have to unfriend somebody and if you do, for example, someone may say something that’s very foul or very vulgar. That shows up on your page. And especially nowadays that employers are going and they’re looking at the social sites to see kind of what’s going on and who you associate yourself with, that could be something that could possibly hurt your future, your future of your job or what have you. So if something’s foul or vulgar or you just don’t quite agree with it and you decide you want to unfriend them, you just go ahead and do so. There’s no big explanation that needs to be given because that’s going to open up kind of a can of worms to start with this whole dialogue back and forth. More often than not, some individuals won’t even realize that they’ve been unfriended because they’ve got the one thousand or the two thousand friends or what have you. And, you know, when people are getting up in those numbers, they’re doing something else. They’re in business and they’re trying to promote something.

CAVANAUGH: Right, that’s very true…

SWANN: And it’s no…

CAVANAUGH: …sometimes, yeah.

SWANN: …it’s no longer personal, you know…


SWANN: …and so that’s the thing. You have to determine whether or not you’re going to use this page for personal or business pleasure, and so if it’s personal then that’s when you are going to be a lot more selective with who you have yourself connected with. But if it’s business and people are trying to reach a thousand and two thousand people, so go ahead.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Sandi’s calling from La Jolla. Good morning, Sandi, and welcome to These Days.

SANDI (Caller, La Jolla): Thank you very much. I’m one of those dinosaur persons in her fifties and I don’t use Facebook or Twitter at all and I only send occasional e-mails. But I really do keep in touch with my network of friends most by using the telephone. I just find it so much more personal to actually be able to hear somebody’s voice and picture what they look like. I find that a lot of people are extremely inconsiderate using things like the cell phone in public. You know, I’ll be in the supermarket trying to do my business and all of a sudden there’s a voice next to me and I’ll just, you know, turn my head around…


SANDI: …and it’s somebody talking on their cell phone. And I think people need to develop, as we’ve said, some sort of social consciousness that, I mean, everybody has the right to quiet when we’re out in public and it’s just not appropriate to be using something like that in a public place.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call, Sandi. A right to quiet. I haven’t heard that before.

FOWLER: If I could…


FOWLER: …just throw in something, this complaint about cell phone use in public…


FOWLER: …comes up frequently. It’s been coming up for years. And…


FOWLER: …typically people say, well, it’s because when you’re talking on the cell phone you’re talking louder.


FOWLER: They actually did a study a few years ago and discovered that that’s not entirely the case. It’s distracting because—this is what the study said—it’s distracting because you can only hear half the conversation and so your mind naturally starts to try and fill in the other half and you’re thinking what’s that other person saying?

CAVANAUGH: Isn’t that funny?

FOWLER: What’s that conversation? That it almost like draws you in. So a person sitting next to you at a restaurant talking on a cell phone is more obnoxious than a couple sitting next to you even if it was at the same volume.

CAVANAUGH: And even if they were arguing.

SWANN: Wow. Wow.

FOWLER: Well, if they were arguing, I would start to eavesdrop on that as well but, you know.

SWANN: That’s good stuff. I may go post it on Facebook.

CAVANAUGH: Very good. We do have to take a short break. I want everyone to know that I am known as the person who constantly says hello to people who are saying hello to someone else on their cell phone. I’ll never get out of that habit. Anyway, we will continue our discussion about how – the proper use and etiquette of technology when we return. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We are continuing our discussion about the proper use and etiquette of technology. My guests are James Fowler. He’s a professor at UCSD and co-author of the book, “Connected.” Noah Arceneaux is professor of Media Studies at SDSU. And Elaine Swann is a 21st century etiquette expert who’s written for Modern Bride, Essence magazine, and Exquisite Weddings magazine. We are taking, encouraging, your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727. And before we go back to the phones, James, I did want to ask you, we were talking about not only social networking when it comes to keeping in touch personally but also in the workplace, used as a business tool. We talked about people who have those thousands of friends and that’s usually used as a business tool. Do we actually know what the benefits of social networking in business are? Or is this all too new to actually have any concrete idea?

FOWLER: Well, we do and this is actually one of the oldest findings in social network analysis. Mark Granovetter, he’s a professor at Stanford, wrote a paper in 1973 where he was responding to this idea that, really, the only people who help us are our strong ties, the people that we’re deeply connected to, our best friends, our family members. But he was sort of interested in, well, how do people get jobs? And he went out and he did a survey of several people and asked them, well, how did you find your job? And what he found was that people usually networked with people that they didn’t know very well. It was actually their weak ties that were able to help them to achieve their professional goals. And the reasoning is that although your close friends are going to do everything they can for you, they don’t – they have the same information that you do. And so if you ask them where’s the job? Well, I don’t know, where’s the job? Do you know where the job – I don’t know where the job is. So it’s sort of this endless loop, and if you get outside of your social network a little bit, you’re getting new information which can help you professionally.

CAVANAUGH: So having that friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, that big removal from your little sphere of information, actually helps you advance in your career.

FOWLER: Absolutely. And I think that’s the reason why we see, especially on Linked In…

SWANN: Umm-hmm.

FOWLER: …the average number of people that we’re connected to is quite high. It’s in the hundreds.


CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call and talk with Jay in San Diego. Jay, welcome to These Days.

JAY (Caller, San Diego): Hi. How’re you doing?


JAY: I was calling this morning just to see how rare this situation that I’m in is. I’m a 21 year old and I don’t use any social networking sites.


JAY: No Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, any of that. I really don’t see a lot of use for the Twitter types of things.


JAY: And the MySpace and the Facebook stuff, they change every three years because I used to have a Zangle way back when in like 6th grade but I pretty much learned my lesson there so…


JAY: And I just wondered how weird is that really?


JAY: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, so how weird is Jay really, Noah?

ARCENEAUX: Well, I can’t put a percentage on it but I would definitely say he’s in the minority. But…


ARCENEAUX: …I think that there are other individuals like Jay who making sort of a definitive stance. It becomes a definitive thing, not – He’s not doing it because he is too lazy to do it, I think he’s making a deliberate choice, a definitive choice, and I think many people are – or some people are like that. I think the majority of people, especially people who are 21 are on at least one of these sites, you know, not necessarily all of them.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Frank is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Frank, and welcome to These Days.

FRANK (Caller, San Diego): Yes, the first question is how many of you put your entire address book on the outside of an envelope when you mail it in the U.S. Postal system?


FRANK: I think the e-mail accounts, one of the biggest mistakes in software was that cc: is default on the e-mail account. It should be bcc:. You were talking about social etiquette, it’s very, in my opinion, cold and impersonal to cc: everybody in your address book instead of making it personal to each individual...

CAVANAUGH: I see what you’re saying.

FRANK: …and bcc:.

CAVANAUGH: Well, let me get a…

FRANK: I can…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead. I’m sorry.

FRANK: Well, my concern is I don’t want my e-mail account spammed to all your friends that they can go ahead and make money off of my e-mail account.

CAVANAUGH: I understand, and thank you for the call, Frank. Elaine, so when people are e-mailing a lot of people and cc-ing a lot of people on a particular e-mail, do you think that’s bad form?

SWANN: You know, it’s not necessarily bad form. It just depends on what context. For example, if there’s a group of you that are working on a particular project together, you all – and you all need to stay abreast of the information that’s being passed between all of you, then absolutely, you should cc: one another, A, so that you can make sure that the other individuals within your party are getting all the same information at the same time and, B, so that you can kind of stay on track with the conversation at hand. Now, absolutely you should do – if you’re just sending out some sort of blanket e-mail and there’s one bit of information that you want to get out to a lot of people and you’re not going to be working or interacting together, then, in my opinion, that’s when you should use the blind cc: function, so it just really depends on the purpose of the e-mail and the communication itself.

CAVANAUGH: Elaine, when is it that you would suggest people go old school and pick up a phone or send a letter through the mail?

SWANN: I think you should do that whenever your point is not getting across because technology and e-mail especially, it doesn’t absolutely transfer emotion well and so sometimes you get to a place or an impasse where you have to really get your point across so there’s a sensitive issue that needs to be discussed or shared or what have you, and you just have to pick up the telephone in order to get your point across because it get – your message can get lost in what’s just being said online or on the internet or whether you’re texting or what have you. So every once in awhile my advice is to pick up that phone and call the person and talk with them so that way you can get your point across. And then especially as far as thank-yous are concerned or following up with someone or letting them know we had people today who are – you know, someone sends you a really nice gift or something for your birthday or a wedding gift or what have you, following up with a electronic thank you card doesn’t say as much as a handwritten thank you for your time, you know, whatever. That’s the thing that’s going to kind of bump some people ahead, whether it’s a business relationship or a personal relationship so picking up that phone and writing that card is a good thing.

CAVANAUGH: So Elaine has made this point, one of our callers made this point, James, that communicating on Facebook, communicating – text messaging and so forth, sort of has a lack of emotion, a lack of emotional depth in its ability to communicate. Would you agree with that?

FOWLER: Well, okay, so here I have to, I think, speak from my own personal experience. I actually really like Facebook because it gives you an emotional context of the person that you’re talking to. And so you can see the photos of their kids, you can see their status updates over the last week or so to see if they’ve just been having a rough week or something like that. And so there’s a lot of social information there that makes it, I think, a superior form to, say, just e-mail. But I have to agree that talking on the phone and even better than that, Skype, where you can see the person that you’re talking to, gives you a lot more information about the emotional state of the person you’re talking to and I think that’s going to help you to avoid misunderstandings because you’re going to be better able to read the person you’re talking to.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. Sheila is calling from Fallbrook. Good morning, Sheila, and welcome to These Days.

SHEILA (Caller, Fallbrook): Hi.


SHEILA: Good morning. I wanted to follow up with the person that said, talking about Facebook and the superficial-ness of it.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, uh-huh.

SHEILA: What I’m finding – I have two twenty-something year old children that also show me some of their posts and whatnot, is there’s a lot of one-upping going on and I find that during an event, whatever it happens to be, people – we used to just enjoy the moment where now the same moment, at the same time you’re uploading Tweets or posts or pictures. And I’m just wondering with Elaine on what her thoughts are on taking that back to enjoying that event and uploading and talking about it maybe a few days later.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Sheila. And I’ll ask all of our guests for their reaction but, Elaine, let me start first and are we losing an experience of our events by trying to enshrine them, uploading video, taking video, uploading it, sharing it with millions of people while the thing’s still going on?

SWANN: Well, it’s – You know what, no, it’s actually – this is just part of our society today. This is what our world has become. And sometimes just getting a firsthand account of something that’s going on or what have you is a great thing. You never know, for example, in a personal relationship, maybe someone didn’t get to travel across country for the holiday season that year but they’re getting to see what’s happening, kind of a play-by-play on what’s going on, you know, with the family on Christmas Day. They’re seeing the pictures of, you know, what’s going on. I think – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all. I use my Twitter account for my ‘right now’ stuff and believe – I’m on everything, you know. I’ve got Facebook, Linked In, MySpace, Twitter, all of that. And so, for example, with me personally for Twitter, that’s when, you know, I’m using up to date stuff. But, of course, I’m documenting people’s impoliteness in society and that’s kind of comical.

CAVANAUGH: We’ll have to friend you on that.

SWANN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: But anyway, I would – this goes to, I think, some of the issues that, James and Noah, you’ve been talking about, about this generational gap. Is there a difference—let me start with you, James—in the way people are fully experiencing an event. In other words, is it really happening if I’m not taking video or if I’m not Tweeting about it?

FOWLER: I think you can say this about all forms of technology and so, I mean, you have the same debate about people just taking pictures…


FOWLER: …rather than just living the moment. And the tradeoff there is am I going to interrupt my pleasure now so I can retain this memory a year from now? And so you’re sort of trading off the future versus the present. And so I just see these new technologies as an extension of that same question of, you know, do I have – do I just want to experience this is some kind of pure way or do I want to use technology to enhance my appreciation of the experience.

CAVANAUGH: And, Noah, you have been giving us a sort of historical perspective on this. So is this a new way that people are experiencing and sharing events with this immediacy that technology now allows us?

ARCENEAUX: Well, there’s a, you know, a famous saying, the unexamined life is not worth living. Am I saying that correctly?


ARCENEAUX: That – But I think with what these new forms of personal technology allows maybe too much examination, you know. Kind of like James was saying that, you know, are you going to experience the pleasure now or are you going to be documenting it on your blog and Tweeting about it? And I do wonder about that sometimes, that people are maybe so obsessed or so intrigued with documenting their lives that maybe they should just sort of like pause and reflect. Not to change the conversation too much, but I’ve been having a debate with other professors now about the use of laptops in classrooms.

SWANN: Umm-hmm. Yes.

ARCENEAUX: Of course, students find it very, very easy and of course it’s very convenient but I find it kind of distracting. Like I…


ARCENEAUX: …would rather them pay attention to me, pay attention to the full scope of my lecture rather than write down each and every – I don’t expect them to know how many lines of cable Western Union laid in 1888. I might say it in the course of a lecture, and they’ll say, can you go back to that? Is that going to be on the exam? And I’m just like, listen to the lecture, just get the point of what I’m trying to say.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, yeah.

ARCENEAUX: I have not come to the point where I’m going to ban laptops but I know professors who’ve done it and I’m thinking about maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Just listen to me, you know, write down on a notebook, remember writing down in a notebook? Write down in a notebook…


ARCENEAUX: …the important points that I’m saying as opposed to documenting every little thing that comes out, you know.

SWANN: I absolutely agree. I absolutely agree. And one of the things, aside from in a classroom but even, for example, in a business meeting when you open up that laptop, it kind of creates a physical barrier between yourself and the other person as well. And then, you know, we get distracted, those of us who are perhaps lecturing or sharing our – or running the meeting or what have you, thinking what are they doing behind there? Are they really listening? Are they taking notes? Or are they doing something else? And that can kind of distract us as well. So I agree, absolutely.

FOWLER: I have to disagree, though.


FOWLER: I think especially for the younger generations multi-tasking is like breathing. And I think it’s – for people in the older generations, they’re imagining what they would be like if they were trying to be on the laptop and on Twitter and taking a picture and listening to the lecture all at the same time. I think that a sizable percentage of the students that are doing that now are actually able to do that and still effectively listen to a presentation and, for them, it helps to have these moments, you know, every five or ten minutes where they’re doing something else to come back in then and reengage with the professor. So I don’t want to make a blanket statement and say that’s true for everybody but I do think that for some students it probably helps them to listen to you even more.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, though, somewhere down the line, and this must be the last question, James, will the younger generation who is so adept at this multi-tasking really have to learn how to concentrate?

FOWLER: I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s – I think we’re researching that question now very intensively because things have been changing very quickly.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you all. We are out of time. I want to thank you all so much for joining in the conversation. Elaine Swann, 21st century etiquette expert, and the writer for Modern Bride magazine, Essence magazine, and Exquisite Weddings magazine. Elaine, thank you so much.

SWANN: A pleasure to be here.

CAVANAUGH: James Fowler, professor at UCSD and co-author of the book “Connected: The Surprising Power Of Our Social Networks And How They Shape Our Lives." James, thanks.

FOWLER: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Noah Arceneaux, professor of Media Studies at SDSU. Noah, thank you for coming in.

ARCENEAUX: Well, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know there are many people who wanted to join the conversation. We could not get to their phone calls. You can post your comments online at You have been listening to These Days on KPBS.