Virtual VS. Real Networks: Where is the Balance?

Those who read my blog know, I’m very rarely the first in line to embrace a new technology. My first cell phone was purchased only two and a half years ago. I was also very late to join Facebook.  Once I do adopt a new technology, it is usually because it benefits my life substantially. At that point, I tend to become a total convert. I now spend a large amount of time networking, sharing, and interacting in various ways on social media sites and in 2010 I made the conversion to a smart phone and haven’t looked back since. Life without it would be unpleasant.

 This weekend I was out with two friends. We were engaged in fairly mundane activities (watching a hockey game, consuming fatty foods, and drinking beer.) The night was fairly typical for us. The first part of the night, we got caught up on what each other were doing had various discussions about politics, work etc. Then later on in the night as the game got kind of boring, and there was a lag in conversation, my other friend, let’s call him “R” and myself began to turn to our smart phones. This is now as natural to me as breathing. My third friend, “J” got cranky and felt that cell phone use (while fairly minor) was a violation of “face time” with him.

 I was reminded again how we are in a period of transition. Though clearly the writing is on the wall and the overlap between real and virtual social networks will continue to expand. This divide, between those who are plugged into online connections and those who are not, for the short-term, will create friction between the two groups; however, the latter group is shrinking very rapidly.  I suspect in a few years those not plugged in will be considered an oddity (maybe we’re already there?)

Now certainly everyone is entitled to live their lives as they choose, but I can’t help but remember that hanging out in a bar watching a game, at one time, would have been considered anti-social. “Why hang out with other people if you are just going to watch TV?” Society has changed and we now recognize that we can also socialize while using this technological device. Simply put, social interactions never stop.

The same is true of smart phones. They are not making us less social, if anything they are making us more social.  This is basic human nature and it’s not surprising that a technology that has expanded the ways we connect with others has been so successful and widely adopted. Fighting this trend is futile. It’s the present not the future.

 Here is another thought: while it would be rude to constantly be talking with individuals who are not physically present (and ignoring those in real time around you) it is equally rude to force someone to ignore those individuals who are not present and completely monopolize their time because you are currently in their physical space.

 Obviously a balance has to be struck.  Where do you think this balance is?

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5 responses to “Virtual VS. Real Networks: Where is the Balance?

  1. Whenever I am out with someone, I do my best to connect with them and not my phone. The person I am “in person” with made the effort to get up off their couch, put some decent clothes on and venture out of their house to see me, so I try to make the effort to be there with them.
    That being said, I think that it is all right to take quick breaks from what is going on in person to check on your “virtual friends”. From an etiquette standpoint, I try to do it sparingly or when my “in person” person has made a trip to the washroom.
    Is there ever really a time though when we can’t put down the technology and devote a couple of hours to just one person? Do we really miss anything except a stream of thoughts that can be looked at later? Are twitter conversations ever “urgent” so much so that you need to respond immediately?
    That being said, I like a lot of my virtual people just as much as some of my “in person” people and want to interact with them all. I think that each situation is different and that we need to take into consideration the “in person” friend we are spending time with and their tolerance to being ignored for virtual friends. I have a personal level of tolerance for being ignored by someone who is checking in with their virtual people, but it varies depending on who I am with, their relationship to me, and the environment that I am in… and sometimes the mood that I am in that day.

    • Thanks for reading and replying Jen. Do you feel the same way about text messages? Do different forms of virtual communication take priority over others?

      I’ve noticed my own practices change depending on whether I am with one or more individuals. Increasingly, I’m noticing a divide between those who have smart phones and those who do not. Those with smart phones tend to incorporate phone breaks almost organically into the outing.

  2. nadinethornhill

    Because, as you point out, we’re in a transition phase with social media the etiquette regarding their use has yet to be established. I’m confident a set of generally accepted rules will evolve in time, but meanwhile I have a few personal guidelines to manage my face-to-face/mobile interactions.

    1. The person in my presence is my priority.

    2. If my companion(s) aren’t bothered by the presence of a phone, I will leave it out but I try to remember to place it face down and to turn the ringer off.

    3. If my companion(s) doesn’t like the phone, I put it in my purse but turn the ringer on (Someone might be calling about my kid!)

    4. I won’t engage in a text conversation unless said conversation is about/related to the my companion(s).

    5. If texting does happen, I try to relay the message to the people in the room, so everyone’s in on the conversation.

    6. If I receive a text/phone call that I feel I have to take and it’s not related to my companions, I will excuse myself and do it privately.

    7. One friend introduced me to the idea of “phone breaks”. A mutually agreed upon period of time, wherein we can both check our texts/tweets/e-mail, etc. I like these.

    8. I check my phone when companions are in the bathroom.

    The word “companion” has given me hankerin’ to hang out with highly skilled, Whedon-esque sex workers.

    Like I said, these are just my own rules. I know different people have different strategies and philosophies about the appropriate balance between virtual and personal interactions. Generally speaking, I think most people have good intentions and until a broader protocol is established, it’s important to remember that people usually come from a good place. Just because someone’s cell phone etiquette doesn’t quite match mine that doesn’t mean they intend to be rude or don’t value my company.

    • Thanks for reading and replying Nadine!
      I like your rules and I agree these questions of etiquette are not set in stone.

      I follow most of these rules too. Rule #1 varies for me. If I am out with one individual, I follow it strictly; however, if there are more people at the outing, I feel less obligated to follow it as rigidly.

      Rule 2 I rarely leave my phone out on the table, but I’m not bothered when other people chose to do this.

      Rule 5 I usually follow this practice too. I like including others even if they can’t necessary be there. Most of my texts are trying to get more people out or arranging plans for a later meeting in the day or evening.
      “The word “companion” has given me hankerin’ to hang out with highly skilled, Whedon-esque sex workers.”
      Oh sweet Inara! Too bad Firefly was cancelled. What a great show!

  3. nadinethornhill

    Regarding rule #2:

    I wonder if there are some gender/fashion dynamics at play here. Specifically pockets. I’m guessing almost all of your outfits have pockets and that’s where you keep your phone. Women’s clothes (at least the kind I wear) often have no pockets or small, streamlined pocket that don’t accomodate a cell phone.

    In a lot of ways, the pocket is the ideal compromise between on table/in the purse. It’s out of sight, easily accessible and you can feel it when a message or alert buzzes in.

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