The Moral of the Story - The Ethicist's take on the news
When Texting Is Wrong
By Randy Cohen
July 13, 2009, 11:50 pm
You're having dinner with your teenage kids, and they text throughout:
you hate it; they're fine with it. At the office, managers are
uncertain about texting during business meetings: many younger workers
accept it; some older workers resist. Those who defend texting regard
such encounters as the clash of two legitimate cultures, a conflict of
manners not morals. If a community - teenagers, young workers -
consents to conduct that does no harm, does that make it O.K.,
***** Moderator's Note *****
This touches on so many "hot buttons" that I'm having my asbestos
long-johns taken out of winter storage. ;-)
Let's see - just off the top of my head -
1. The "real" effectiveness of business meetings. Do younger workers
see them as a tribal ritual that requires only their presence
rather than their participation?
2. Generation gaps: are elder workers miffed that texters aren't
content to become iron-butt bureaucrats like them?
3. Genuine social change: do texters have a better grasp of the
international business climate than elders? Is texting an
acceptable practice in other, less hidebound countries?
4. Are they texting as a social differentiator that bonds them to
their peers? Is it an electronic nosing of their thumbs from a
generation which has never had to rely on its leaders for any
5. Might it be a fad that will die out like Pet Rocks and Palm Pilots
and paper organizers?
Inquiring minds want to know!
We can hope. :-)
I consider it and similar things (e.g., twittering) about as useless
and time wasting as the scenario portrayed in this cartoon:
I also consider people who interrupt a face-to-face conversation to
answer any random and non-important call on their cellphone to be rude
and boorish. I always turn off my ringer when I'm with people in a
social setting; the fetish people have to be "connected" 24/7 almost
seems to be an (mental) illness. ***** Moderator's Note *****
May I take it then, that you agree with my feeling that texting during
a meeting is a way to snub others and advertise that you don't feel
the thing they're talking about is important?
I see no use in texting or tweeting, I [always] ignore and then delete text
messages, most are spammers/scammers. When I'm off of work I turn my
cell phone off, though I have been blasted for that since we are subject
to call. When I'm in the car or out, I just let it go to voice mail and
the ringer is off. I have been using a cellular phone since 1984 and to
me it is just a telephone you can carry with you. The cellular
companies are just pushing this extras to make money; just like all the
added features on landlines; of with CID and maybe call waiting, still
not sure about that.
In message , Monty Solomon
Texting is no different from any other form of inattention to people
with whom you are (nominally) interacting. It's perhaps easier for
(younger) subordinates to do today, but it has always happened.
Over the years I have suffered from (and done so myself at times!)
Reading the papers for the next agenda item while I was presenting
Signing letters previously typed by their secretary
Processing mail (one manager was notorious for carrying his in-basket
into meetings and working through it during the meeting).
Sitting processing e-mails on a laptop
Taking (wired) phone calls from their family and friends
etc. etc. etc.
All of which display a lack of interest in and attention to the people
you are with at the time.
There are two ways to deal with it - depending on your level of power
and influence, and your self confidence.
1) stop the meeting until they have finished - sitting very quietly and
watching for them to finish before carrying on works well in my
2) Ask them to leave
3) Wind up the meeting as being a waste of time.
4) Leave yourself
5) Get used to it and deal with the people who are interested.
6) Learn to grab and keep people's attention so that they are really
interested in what you have to say.
When lecturing I usually use 1) first (telling the rest of the students
why I am stopping lecturing) and then apply 2) to persistent offenders -
but then as lecturer the power is with me
When I was a kid* we learned manners from both parents and school.
Most manners made sense, but some were rules to be followed because
they were rules to be followed, not that they made any sense. So it
One strict rule was that no phone calls during meal time. If a friend
called you had to tell him you were eating and would call them back
later. My parents wouldn't let me make calls between 5 pm and 7 pm
because that was dinner time and I might interrupt another family.
Dinner interruptions were not appreciated; sometimes a parent would
coldly say "we're having dinner!"
I don't see any difference between talking on the phone and texting.
If a kid is at dinner, IMHO it is rude if they are texting.
*FWIW, I think kids today are more polite to their elders than we were
back in the "don't trust anyone over 30" days.)
Irrelevent. As an oldster, I see many business meetings as a huge
waste of time (not counting, of course, the ones I lead.)
But when the boss says you go to a meeting, you go and suffer through
it, that is what you're getting paid for.
I frankly think there is much less of a generation gap today between
old and young than years ago when I was starting out. The baby boomer
generation often went out of its way to aggravate oldsters. The baby
boomers thought they knew the answer to everything while the oldsters
were uneducated backwards Archie Bunkers. It seems youth today really
respect the oldsters for their experience and are much more open
minded toward learning. (If not, they at least keep their discontent
quietly to themselves. How young people treat _each other_ is a
"When in Rome . . .". I have no idea what texting manners are
elsewhere; and I do believe telephone manners are different in other
countries, always were. But in the U.S. it's rude.
Not at all. If they had it when we were kids we'd [have] dived into
it. Anyway, plenty of adults text now, too.
Who knows. Kids like to stay connected. In my elders' day they hung
around the corner candy store to be near the phone. In my day we used
the phone a lot, running up big bills, and the wealthy got their own
phone lines. It will probably stick around until something else comes
along to replace it. Kids sure seem addicted to it, though. It
amazes me how I see a group of kids walking together down the street,
but each engrossed on the cell phone.
In case it wasn't obvious, definitely YES, we are in full agreement!
I'm not a Luddite:
1. I was probably one of the first to have HDTV in the USA in the mid-1990s
via gear I imported from Japan and Hong Kong using MUSE HiVision laserdiscs
2. early adopter of cellphones (1992). I also take care of my gear having had
only 3 instruments since then: Motorola MicroTAC Elite (until its batteries
were impossible to find), Nokia (until its batteries became
scarce), and presently a Motorola RAZR V3 (for its tiny size, photo/movie
capability, and the fact it can display email such as overtemp/system-down
warnings from computers under my purview).
3. probably one of the first to have home computers (beginning with the MITS
Altair in the 1970s, same for home networks (AT&T StarLAN), same for home
UNIX systems (AT&T 3B1/UNIXPC/PC7300), same for home Linux systems, up to
today with nearly 50 computers at home running UNIX, Solaris, several Win
systems including Windows 7, etc. including home broadband microwave as you
can see here () until the FCC reallocated the
spectrum and I had to go cable (presently at DOCSIS 3.0), etc.
4. one of the first to use world-wide email in the 1960s over networks provided
by Tymshare, ITT, etc (slow, though, at 110baud on a TTY ASR33 :-)
5. on the ARPANET in 1972/1973, able to use, for example, the Rutherford High
Energy Labs' IBM 360/195 (70 miles north of London UK) from my home in
5. hi-tech hobbies (astronomy, computer/electronic design, etc.)
6. etc etc etc
Point being: technology is great and I helped create some of it, but I'm not
obsessed with it and I have a normal life and interact with people, mostly
What I see happening nowadays, however, has me believing the younger folks are
pining to be in the MATRIX and they're just using everything imaginable to be
"connected" until the day brain-implanted Internet connectivity arrives, at
which point they will be totally disconnected from humanity and reality.
For me texting and twittering are just 2 ways to communicate.
Twittering sends your message to your real friends and online friends
with little or no cost to you. Your friends in return won't feel
oblige to reply unlike when you send a text to him/her personally.
Those intererested in what you tweet may reply.
Texting during meeting or dinner is rude. You may read your text but
wait till meeting is over before you reply. The advantage of text is,
the sender can just say his/her piece and thats it. No chit chat. The
receiver may or may not reply or he can delay his reply. Texting gives
us more options and save us time compared when you make calls.
Hope springs eternal. We have text messaging blocked on our two-unit
When we are in town they are almost never turned on. Well, I do take my
iPhone on my daily 40 minute walk and it's on for that time only.
When both the wife and I travel we have mine all during the day because
we forward the real phone to it.
Otherwise, forget the blasted things.
I see the way younger people use them (younger, meaning 40ish or less)
as extremely rude and boorish.
I think texting (or phoning) in business meetings can be appropriate
if it's relevant to the meeting or the business. At one job Nextel's
"walkie-talkie" mode was used effectively to communicate trouble
tickets and status. If the CEO just asked me about how something
is progressing TODAY, and I've been in the meeting all day, I don't
think it's inappropriate to phone or text my subordinates to ask
for updated status. If the CEO just told me to do something ASAP,
it's not inappropriate to phone or text my subordinates to tell
them to start doing it. If my subordinates notify me that the main
company PBX just blew its power supply, that's important to know
about and perhaps I should leave the meeting to handle it.
The old-style version of this was having a subordinate or secretary
enter the meeting room, hand me a note, and leave, which was fine
unless there was something he shouldn't hear or see going on in the
On the other hand, if the phoning or texting are, as a Sprint
commercial suggests, about diapers, that can wait until after the
meeting. So can the "Joke of the Day", lunch arrangements, and
vacation plans for next month.
Regardless, I think visibly not paying attention to what is said
is rude, whether it's audible snoring, phoning, texting, whispering
to the person next to you in the meeting, or using a mattress you
brought into the meeting. It's harder to tell whether texting is
relevant to the meeting if you are sitting across the table from
the person doing it than with phoning.
I fear we're straying off topic, but after watching this thread unfold I
can no longer stay above the fray.
I will be 40 next month. I'm not *THAT* old. I grew up with the
Huxtable's and Keaton's and not the Cleaver's. We had the same rule which
was followed quite well. 5 PM until 7 PM was dinner and family time. My
friends were not to call and I was not to call them. No exceptions. In
the rare instance someone called me during that time, I was not to accept
the call and received an earful about the incident.
Additionally television (singular, we had one) was off. No radios. My
Sony Walkman stayed in my room.
Sounds like I'm somewhere between you and the younger generation. I find
young people today to be downright rude. "Me first, forget you" (polite
version) should be our new national motto.
I would love to travel back to 1943 and visit Los Alamos to see just how
many meetings they had. I have a hunch scientists and engineers were
allowed to work and didn't spend half their days in room with a bunch of
I really think Generation X, that is my generation, born roughly second
half of the 60's and the 70's lost our voice. We rarely spoke up for
ourselves. Generation Y, the generation that came after us are the ones I
have seen marching into the workplace, demanding company cars on their
resumes (Yes, I've seen this!) and telling us how to run a business.
I could tell several true tales, but it's all just anecdotal evidence of
what I'm claiming.
I don't want to identify the distant land, but growing up I had many
friends of a particular heritage. They would stand with their noses about
one inch apart and scream at each other at the same time. I thought this
was horribly rude and if I even thought of talking to my dad like that I'd
be missing a few teeth. But it's just how people talk in their culture.
But I can't imagine a place where texting or talking on the phone during
dinner or at a meeting is acceptable. Several years ago I was at a
restaurant in Houston. My family had flown off to visit grandma and flew
out of Hobby because it was less than half the price of flying out of
Austin. I drove out to pick them up and stopped for lunch. My wife
called me from Nashville letting me know the flight would be on time. I
got up from my table and stepped outside to take the call. I left my keys
and sunglasses on the table to indicate I was still there. Despite that
when I came back inside there all sorts of commotion. They thought I had
left without paying the bill. I explained I was taking a call as so as
not to disturb anyone I stepped outside. You would've thought I had
decided to strip naked and walk on my hands through the restaurant.
Someone would step outside to take a call???
I'm not sure. In my mind it's easier to dial 7 or 10 numbers and talk to
someone rather than text. But there are cases when a text is preferable,
for instance "Please also pick up toothpaste, milk, and green apples". Or
directions. Without the info in front of me when I need it, I'm going to
get it wrong.
My hunch is we'll reach steady state where texts are used only as
appropriate. Until then "Wassup dawg?1!?" will be filling the airwaves.
Austin, Texas, USA ***** Moderator's Note *****
I'm from Generation "U", and my parents had a simple guideline when it
came to rewards: "Nothing if U do, and hell if U don't!"
That was, of course, a very long time ago. We had to lock the Morse
Code sounder during dinner, with no Semaphores allowed until the
cows were milked and the barn was mucked out.
Thad, just out of curiosity: have you found a version of Opera Mini
that works well on your RAZR V3? I ask because, while the lofi versions
tend to work OK on my own Nokia 6610, none of the hifi versions we've
loaded onto my wife's V3 (beyond a really early version whose version
number we failed to record) seems to be worth a d..n in the V3's J2ME.
Indeed, even for my Nokia, I'd had to back down to an earlier version
in order to maintain usability, as several updates proved flakier than
this stable predecessor.
TIA; and cheers, -- tlvp
My impression about today's young people is based on my dealings with
them in stores and the neighborhood. As a group, they seem to be far
more polite and helpful to older people than my generation was when we
were that age. IMHO, my generation as kids was more sullen and surly;
but kids today seem very helpful. Now, whether they're putting on a
big act or genuinely want to help I can't [say], but as a customer or
a neighbor they are always unfailingly polite and helpful.
In a sense, I think kids today are less spoiled and more "out in the
world" than we were. In our day, many parents were at home, today's
kids have working parents and have to be more self reliant at an
earlier age. Many come from split families and have to grow up
faster. It seems that more kids work.
Now, how kids treat _each other_ is a different story. I'm no expert,
but it seems to me kids are more competitive and demanding about
"coolness" from their peers, and the nerdy kids have a very hard time
of it. The 'cool' kids are under constant pressure to maintain their
'cool status'. For example, I think today there is greater peer
pressure about expensive clothing and fashion. IMHO, the pressure is
significantly worse than I was a kid; clothing is more expensive and
styles rigidly defined.
I think a kid with an old model cell phone or audio player will have a
hard time of it today. I don't think in our day we cared at all if
someone's home phone was an old black 302 set or premium Touch Tone
Princess or Trimline.
I can't answer that offhand, but the scientists of Los Alamos wrote
numerous memoirs detailing their time there. Further, contemporary
authors have analyzed life quite extensively. Somewhere in the
literature may be the answer.
I do know that General Groves was fanactical about good use of time
and set up strict policies. He wanted scientists focused on specific
tasks at hand, not research for intellectual curiosity. He did not
want work to be shared out of concern for distraction and espionage.
Groves wrote about this in his "Now It Can Be Told". Richard Rhodes
wrote about the entire project. I can't recall the title of a group
of eassays which was very good.
However, Oppenheimer convinced Groves that some contact was necessary,
and that was one reason everyone was isolated in Los Alamos. There
was a lecture series established.
As to telephone manners in other places, years ago the US had many
more telephones per capita than elsewhere. I understand that in other
countries the telephone was seen differently than in the US, not as much
accepted or liked, and used more sparingly. However, that was years
ago and AFAIK they yak on the phone just as much as we do now.
You are on to something. I know this sounds trite because I'm just barely
on the "good side". I was born in 1969. I swear something entered our
water supply on January 1, 1970 that caused everyone born after that date
to be a self-absorbed (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
I think people like this are the cause of so many of our current social
problems. If people used a little common sense we wouldn't need cell
phone laws. People would simply understand in certain traffic conditions,
using a cell phone is a bad idea. But I think common sense left our
vocabulary about 25 years old.
Everyone is quick to point out THEIR rights, but forget their
responsibilities or other people's rights. And it seems people aren't
using their freedom for anything constructive like keeping government
accountable. Instead they use freedom to behave as trashy as humanly
possible. Drive a monster pickup truck aggressively. Let their grass
grow two feet tall. Let their pit bulls roam the neighborhood. They have
RIGHTS, you can't tell them what to do.
Through all of this I really see 1970 as a watershed year. Based on their
behavior I can tell if someone is slightly younger or slightly older than
Sorry, I'm ranting. This has been a good thread, at least for me. :-)
Rise of the broadcast media. AM radio had been the prepoderant system
for years but in the 1960's you had the explosion of FM.
Add to that the advent of color television and the prices of television
coming to the point where EVERYONE could own one.
The net is different, I can be selective about what I see, hear, etc.
With a TV or radio your choices are very limited.
Sorry, I've never bothered using my V3 for anything other than as a phone
and to receive emergency email, so I'm not aware of what's available even
though I do have the complete software "hacker" toolkit for it.
I just checked the "razr_v3" Yahoo group's archives and there's nothing
pertinent all the way back to 2005 when the group formed. I've had mine
since 2004. The only thing I've done to it (using the hacker tools) is
boost the max audio level by altering a few bits since I do have a mild
hearing loss, and I've been pleased with it since that change.
BTW I generally avoid meetings. However, for non business related meetings
require my laptop, I really like using my folding Palm keyboard to take notes.
it's folded it nicely fits in a pocket.
Thanks, Thad. Pity. I guess one day I'll just have to go through the
Opera Mini old-versions archive and try 'em, one after another, until
I find one that's satisfactory. Opera's own O. Mini forums help less
than I'd have hoped, alas.
Cheers, -- tlvp