Generational Approaches to Technology, Revisited

A while back, I was taken to task by a person older than me for using my mobile device during dinner. This topic also came up in a conversation I had with a fellow Gen-Xer recently, so I thought I’d share some additional thoughts, as the manners employed with electronic devices are still a “hot button.”

Any electronics are too many

Last night I tried to turn off my phone on the way to dinner, knowing that if I didn’t I’d probably get a lecture. For some reason I kept getting buzzed by the phone for reminders about an appointment I thought I’d canceled (my phone has politely been on “silent mode” for 13 years because ring chimes make me crazy). After finally clearing that out and stopping the alerts, I pocketed the machine, put it on airplane mode, and left it alone throughout dinner. As we were heading out to the car, I decided this would be a good point to check in again…nope, lecture resumed. Apparently I will need to keep the phone out of sight completely when dealing with these particular individuals. Nice to know for future reference.

You have the electronics, why aren’t you using them?

Meanwhile, back in my mobile-driven business and social life, I’ve had to contend with my own issues with rudeness as I see it.

One thing that’s been vexing me, especially given all the different tools and channels people have available to them to communicate, is how many people do not respond when sent a question or meeting invitation.

In texting/messaging situations, I actually understand this. Texts are perceived as being more immediate-response communication media than, say, email, which are expected to be more asynchronous. If you can’t respond immediately, it might be because you’re in the middle of a conversation (or dinner, as it were). However, it also does not take a long time to respond with something like, “Busy. TTYL [Talk to you later].” That is an acceptable answer in my mind, assuming that the individual actually does respond later.

No response whatsoever makes me crazy, especially when I’m asking a specific question or sending a meeting request. Specific questions are asked because an answer is expected. Meanwhile, meeting requests have three standard buttons for response: Accept, Maybe, or Decline. What is someone supposed to make of no response at all? Did the individual not receive the message? Are they busy? Are they on vacation? Are they dead? Are they alive but trapped under something heavy?

“Decline” is an acceptable response to a meeting request because at least the person sending the request can know whom to expect to attend. Why is that so hard? Not responding at all and hoping that the silence will substitute for “no” is passive-aggressive. I’d really rather have a “No, I can’t come” than no response whatsoever.

As the header asks, you have the electronics, why aren’t you using them? (And please note I am not picking on any particular generation in these situations–I don’t like this behavior at all, and it happens across the board.)

My response to the passive-aggressive non-response response is to resend an email/message or, heaven forfend, call someone and try to hear their voice to get an answer. Again, even on the phone, the following answers are acceptable:

  • “I am at a meeting/meal/vacation and can’t talk right now. Could we please talk at [specific response time offered]?
  • “I cannot attend.” <Decline>
  • “I might attend.” <Tentative> <Maybe>

So to recap generational pet peeves (stereotyping here, but these have been my experiences):

  • Around Silent Generation and older, don’t keep checking your phone during conversations, meals, or meetings, unless you excuse yourself and explain the behavior (expecting an urgent call/message would usually be the only acceptable excuse). They also prefer a phone call, hard copy, or even a handwritten/computer printed and personally signed letter to email. Those are their default means of communication.
  • When dealing with Boomers/Generation X (or at least Bart): If someone sends you a meeting request or a question, they expect you to respond in some fashion, even if that fashion is, “Not right now, I’m busy. However, I will respond in X minutes/hours/days.”

What say you, Millennials? What are your pet peeves about how other generations use electronic communication? I’d rather know now than face a really ugly situation because, in the mind of someone else, I was being rude according to some standard/custom I didn’t know.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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