Today is 4sqDay 2011. This may not mean much to those of us not playing, but it does say something to the population of people who are more avid users of social media applications. Something I'm beginning to notice is the rise in online activity, and how it is disrupting the way we connect in-person.
Have you noticed? You are talking with someone, and they pull out their BB or iphone or android and are responding to texts or even playing a game! This is rude, and it's alarming to think perhaps a generation is growing with the idea that this is normal.
I call this a disruption because it changes the way we communicated in the past, although, I do hold reservations for the use of social interaction and digital engagement as being a very good thing, even(especially) at public functions. I come at this from an event coordinator's perspective, who wants to engage with the audience as much as possible. Increasingly, the audience is not only the people who are in the room but also the ones who are away. This is because I am beginning to see events less of a one-day-thing, but as a program that carries into people's way of living day-to-day. This is where Twitter becomes a valuable tool.
It used to be considered common courtesy to attend a seminar and just listen and take notes. With tools like Twitter, I can now share my insights in real-time with friends who I know were unable to attend but still want to know what it's like. So I will tweet a quote or two. If a roomful of people are doing this with one event, then a person at home can easily piece together what is being discussed and feel a part of the event. This does not belittle the "common courtesy" of an event because people are doing what is anticipated of them: they are listening and engaging.
I read a blog post recently about a pastor who noticed people on Facebook and Twitter during a conference. I see where he is coming from: why spend so much money if you are just going to be on Facebook the whole time? This is legitimate, as it's rude to the presenter, rude to those around you, and rude to the person who ultimately could have benefited from the talk where you are sitting but couldn't because seats were sold out. However...
That being said, I believe that to adapt with increasing social media presence at events, the benefit of the doubt should be that people are actively engaging in the discussion by relaying information to people who would otherwise not connect with. This will mean that presenters will have to change their mindset that because someone is on their phone doesn't mean they are being inattentive, but rather they should take it as a compliment that what is being said is worth mentioning at that very moment - a sense of urgency to get that word out. I myself was fortunate to catch a seminar of an interesting speaker because someone had posted a link on Facebook by which I can stream real-time what he was saying.
There are people who would rather sit in a seminar and listen/take notes. There are those who would rather sit in a seminar, take notes and let others know. Neither of these, I would say, is wrong. I'm definitely a fan of digital engagement - if sending a tweet only reaches one person and makes them a better person for it, I say that's worth it.
Do I think pulling out my phone and tweeting while I'm having an actual conversation with someone is alright? Absolutely not. We are social beings, but social does not replace respectful.
Where do you think we should draw the line of pulling out our phones and keeping them in our pockets?