New Age Etiquette: It’s Easy as A-B-C

25 Jan 2003
January 25, 2003

I saw Michael Jackson on the subway yesterday. Not the present version but the one from the 70s: medium, well-shaped Afro and that angelic, before the shit-hit-the-fan face. It’s been oh so cold here in DC (coldest it’s been in seven years) and this MJ was wrapped in what looked like a duct tape goose down tubular jacket: something he might have worn in his Scream video. Past and present in one neat package.

Coincidentally, just as I was observing Michael someone’s cell phone called out. Obviously, the user had been downloading too many tones as the Jackson Five’s A-B-C beckoned me to answer. Ring tones are becoming the Musac for the new millennium. The public commons is undergoing a facelift. And I don’t like what I’m hearing.

Last week someone sat right behind me on the Metro and started talking REAL LOUD on his cell. So loud, in fact, my daughter and I actually jumped off our seats. I wonder where he thought he was.

Cell phones that double as walkie-talkies are also becoming a popular public technology. Instead of listening quietly to the other person via the earphone speaker, your conversation is broadcast for all to hear throughout the bus or subway car.

Recently I’ve written about pervasive technologies: gizmos and applications that allow you to be connected to a network of people no matter where you’re sitting (not just in front of your desk-anchored PC). I’m most interested in the social ramifications these new connections are bringing to our relationships and daily lives. But it seems we need some updated etiquette books to help manage our new working spaces (which would be just about any- and everywhere).

Of course, no amount of etiquette will help those who use new technologies for more traditional twisted behaviors. Take the man in Kenosha, Wisconsin who was recently arrested for placing a GPS (global tracking) device under the hood of his ex-girlfriend’s car. He tracked her every movement and showed up wherever she went: to get gas, on dates, and to the grocery store. Or the problems parents and schools are now encountering with bullies who use cell phone text messaging to intimidate their classmates. Evolution at its finest.

While someone somewhere is, at this very moment, penning the last chapter in such an etiquette book, IDEO has come up with another solution to the problem: Social Mobiles, five concept phones designed to “modify” users’ behavior in situations just like this. I like their SoMo1, the electric shock mobile that sends a variable shock to someone who is speaking louder than is morally acceptable. This might be an appropriate technology for stalkers and harassers too.

I’ve written IDEO with my own idea for a social cell phone: one that intercepts music ringers and substitutes voice ads for personal hygiene products. Maybe I should write my own etiquette book.

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