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Digital Detox? Just Put The Phone Away!

Want to ruin a nice walk, dinner out, or scenic drive with your significant other?

Pull out the phone, tablet or laptop. We know it, and yet we do it anyway, all the time and in nearly every situation. We are on the verge of being alone even when we’re together, and it needs to stop.

So says Randi Zuckerberg, the former marketing director of Facebook, and sister of its co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

More relevant here are Zuckerberg’s two forthcoming books, Dot Complicated: Untangling Our Wired Lives, and Dot, a companion picture book for kids.

According to Zuckerberg, all of us need to do a little self-audit on how much technology has interfered with our personal lives.

“For our society, it’s like the wild, wild west – social norms and etiquette are changing constantly as we get used to life with smartphones, 24/7 access to one another, and more emails than one person could ever humanly respond to,” she says.

I wonder if that’s really the case.

Of course technology has enabled what was unimaginable when I was growing up on Long Island in the 1960s. But I can clearly remember mom snatching a Superman comic I tried to read at the dinner table. You never saw the Man of Steel move so fast.

I can also still feel the flush rise in my cheeks as an annoyed high school English teacher read aloud – and with exaggerated expression, the note I wrote to Jane instead of rewriting passive sentences into the active voice. That the note was in active voice didn’t impress him.

Is it possible that the real discussion is about whether technology has enabled rude behavior, and that, by our actions, we have tacitly granted each other permission to practice bad manners?

It’s more complicated than that, of course.

The lure of technology is the promise to make life simpler and more efficient. Today and forever more, we’ll be able to work from the car, from home, even from the movies. We can surf while walking and text while talking. And we do, effectively shutting out all around us.

Remember that the Sirens promised Odysseus wisdom but had a different agenda in mind. Odysseus had to fill his men’s ears with wax and have the crew lash him to the mast to resist the seductive and deadly Siren song.

I’m not suggesting rope and earwax.

That’s kind of repulsive, and wouldn’t work anyway. The issue isn’t blocking out the noise; the issue is making smarter and more polite choices about when, where, and whether it’s critical to text, talk or tweet. I don’t know that we need a book to teach us these fundamentals, but maybe we do. So be it.

Zuckerberg uses the term “digital detox,” and already has folks calling her the Dear Abby of social media. That sounds like clever marketing, when I think all we really need is balance, moderation, and a reasonable end to the workday.

Forward this to someone you love and let me know how the night goes…

Read more posts by Steve Piacente, a former print journalist and correspondent. Steve is a blogger for JenningsWire.