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TMCNet:  Connected to distraction [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]

[February 16, 2014]

Connected to distraction [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]

(Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Scrolling through a smartphone when you're bored isn't unusual, but what about doing it during a conversation or while out to dinner with friends? While traditional etiquette rules would deem such distractions as rude, it's becoming more common as people become more attached to their technology.


"It becomes compulsive," said Abdul Sinno, chair and professor of communication at Clarke University. "From the person who is doing it, it's never construed as (rude)." How new technology and social media are changing social interaction is a topic on the minds of communications experts nationwide, as smartphones and tablets are keeping more people plugged into what's going on in the news and in the lives of friends.

It's a topic that has yet to see any true academic study published, according to Daniel Bardy, who taught communications at Loras College for several years.

However, what he has seen in his interactions has not encouraged him.

"It's becoming increasingly intrusive," he said of smartphone use during conversations.

High-tech distraction According to figures released last June by Nielson consumer research, an estimated 61 percent of mobile subscribers have a smartphone, up about 10 percent from 2012.

Nielson also reports that while those age 18 to 34 represent most of the users, older age brackets are catching up.

With the convenience of the Internet, checking in on the latest news and messaging with friends becomes almost as easy as checking a watch. It's an instant gratification that can be addictive.

John Stewart, special assistant to the president at the University of Dubuque, said a couple of his colleagues asked students to put phones in a cardboard box at the start of class. Some students were hesitant to be parted from their connection to the rest of the world.

"Their identities are tied up in the devices," Stewart said.

Bardy highlighted one experience he had of talking to a couple of younger women he works with about the loss of a close friend's mother. As he was speaking, one woman kept scrolling through her smartphone.

"It's just so horribly rude," he said. "It's very difficult to have a meaningful conversation these days with any kind of electronic device on the table." All three professors characterized in-person conversations as the most meaningful form of interaction, as those involved can see non- verbal expressions that can offer feedback.

"We know there is nothing like face-to face conversations," Sinno said. "It cannot be replaced." Sinno said with online messaging, it's more likely a conversation could become uncomfortable or unpleasant because you can't tell how the other person is reacting. Face to face, you can tell by a person's tone or facial expressions.

He and his son, Rafic Sinno, a marketing professor at UD, have given communication etiquette presentations to help people realize potential issues to avoid being rude. He noted that people have become more impatient while waiting for responses to calls, texts or messages.

"The expectations are tied to the speed of transmissions," Sinno said. "You expect to hear back immediately." Sharing too much? Along with direct conversations, posting thoughts and photos to social media is common for millions of Americans.

While the Pew Research Center indicates Facebook is the most popular site, others, such as Twitter and Instagram, have been gaining ground.

Stewart noted that the appeal of social media is that a user has control over his or her identity, based on posts and photos, and a way to easily socialize. Companies also have embraced social media to shape their brand.

"It's tremendously powerful and seductive," he said.

Sinno said while certain social media have great potential for meaningful conversation, people can fall into the trap of over- sharing, especially about mundane things.

He likens it to treating social media like a journal, except that those thoughts are not private; they are broadcast publicly.

Bardy lamented that social media and texting seem to exacerbate bad spelling and grammar use. He added that many people also share inappropriate or offensive items, which he cautions can affect a young person's future career prospects.

"It's not private," he said. "You have to be your own gatekeeper." Along with how people interact on social media, Stewart also has seen the increasing vitriol of anonymous commenting on websites.

He likens it to road rage, where you can express anger without having to show yourself or truly confront the other person.

"Rudeness tends to spiral. If you're snippy, the knee-jerk reaction is to be snippy back," he said. "You're not really looking at them as a person (online)." Future use Personalized technology and social media are here to stay. What can be difficult, Stewart said, is limiting its use.

"I'm not an anti-technological Luddite," he said, noting that he has a smartphone and uses Facebook and Skype often.

Stewart said people have always feared the worst with new technological advances. He said changes are undeniable, but there is also great potential.

"It's not that (social media) is bad, it allows so much opportunity. " Overuse and misuse are the problem," he said.

He said that it's important to strive for meaningful conversations, even with Internet-based communication. He said platforms like email, Facebook and Skype have better potential for meaningful conversations, while sites like Twitter and Snapchat have space and time constrictions.

But with the ease of online connections, Stewart encourages people to seek face-to-face meetings, especially to build and maintain strong links to friends and family.

Bardy said that with children, parental oversight of Internet use is important. He suggests that social media and Internet be allowed in moderation, which also would be a useful practice for adults. For example, once he checks emails on Sunday mornings, he takes the rest of the day away from technology.

Sinno would like to see social media use and etiquette taught to students in elementary schools, so that they know how to handle the responsibility of what they say.

"We want people to speak " but with respect to the consequences of what they might say," Sinno said.

(c) 2014 ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.

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