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Don’t be "Clued Out"

A friend was standing in the lobby of a building talking loudly on her cell phone. She continued her call in the crowded elevator, oblivious to everyone riding with her until she went to step off on her floor and noticed several people glaring at her. She didn’t think much about it, but later that day, she went into a meeting and met her new manager, one of the men glaring at her in the elevator.

A strange nonverbal phenomenon occurs when we are connected via phone or electronic device. We feel such an intimate connection to the person we are directly communicating with that we give out nonverbal cues that we would normally reserve for one-on one intimate space conversations. In addition, we tune out true environmental censors for our behavior. We no longer see, hear or acknowledge the people in our physical space, so we don’t follow the rules of etiquette for public communication.

Conversation puts a high cognitive load on the brain. When you focus on one sense, such as listening, we lose much of our ability to monitor our environment with that sense and our other senses. Instead of being clued in we are “clued out.”

The technology itself and the public environments we now use them in can add to the problem. If we are on a smart phone, the poor sound quality can cause us to raise our voices on the call. In addition, my research on paralanguage, prosodics and vocalic on technology indicates that the lack of our ability to hear breathing and other vocal turn-taking signals when we are talking on phones or in public places can make both the people on the phone struggle for understanding, increase frustration, and make the smart phone user raise their voice. Recently, I was sitting in the airport working on my book, when a man sat down in the row of chairs across from me and in a loud voice began talking about how much his dead uncle loved drinking gin. Along with the auditory assault on all those around him, he hooted with laughter and methodically kicked the seat across from him, which was connected to my seat, jolting me every few minutes. I tried to get his attention to ask him to stop, (Or at least ask him what brand of gin his uncle preferred) but he was so engrossed in his conversation he was oblivious to his rudeness. I paused for a moment and wondered how often I had been “clued out” as I talked on my phone, or checked my texts. I don’t have any gin drinking uncles, but I have had some interesting phone conversations in public spaces. I need to think of those around me before I take a call. What is your public tech impression habit? It’s a New Year and time for a new attitude about your tech impression. You never know who the person witnessing your inconsiderate behavior may be.