Multitasking Etiquette

“Memory Matters” for ALL Ages  LINK TO PROGRAM

Life in the 21st century means that technology is probably involved in a large part of your daily routine. While the advantages are many, there are increasing conversations about what is the proper etiquette. New issues are evolving as it becomes necessary to inform people in more locations to not text or no cell phones such as in movies and drive thru locations. Then there are those who do not adhere to those requests.

What is your style? How do you handle situations where someone in your presence is spending more time with their electronics than with you or constantly is interrupting what you had hoped to be quality time together?

Some things to think about:
First of all, do you think it is bad manners to be making calls, checking messages or sending text messages when spending time with other people? Older adults are constantly sharing with me how upsetting it is that not only their grandchildren but their adult children seem unaware that they find this trend annoying. When they share their feelings, sometimes things change for awhile or requests are ignored.

A recent story was shared with me about a person who was placing an order at a fast food drive thru.  The women told the young man taking her order to wait while she answered a phone call. Instead of saying she would call that person back, she continued with the conversation for more than a minute. This person, ignoring the no cell phone sign, was holding up the line. How do you think companies should handle situations like this?

I overheard a conversation where friends were talking about a situation they found annoying. Someone they know well tends to call them during lunchtime to chat while she is doing her errands.  It means she keeps shifting conversations back and forth, chatting with them then switching in the middle of her conversation to talking with the person at the store. They feel their time is also valuable and this is not working for either of them. What is happening here are repeated situations which are leading her friends to feel slighted and plan to speak up? How would you handle the situation or what would your response be if someone wanted to talk to you about something similar?

Here is a concern to consider. What happens when a person starts interacting with someone who does not use technology frequently?  Many grandparents voice frustrations when trying to communicate with their adult children and grandchildren who seem to be constantly on their electronic devices.  To grandparents who grew up with a landline and have limited involvement with cell phones, this type of behavior astounds and saddens them. For those who are younger and had this type of technology available to them for many years, it seems only natural. Part of the etiquette issue is here involves sensitivity to the other person.

One friend said their tradition was to have a few games of scrabble over Christmas with 3 generations playing. One grandmother got so upset with everyone texting back and forth  during the game that she said unless they put their phones in the other room she would not continue playing. Think about how you would feel being the one told to do this or the person who just wants to have uninterrupted time with friends and family

The very recent news related to whether or not the airlines will allow people to be able to use their cell phones when flying has raised some interesting objections. Maybe there is a time and a place for technology and users do actually want some down time and quiet especially in confined spaces.

Tips to consider:
1. Setting boundaries and discussing situations ahead of time may not always  be comfortable conversations for some to have. Perhaps open a discussion by asking to  set up some guidelines such as having a mutual time when you can check messages or make a quick and needed call. Explain you want to enjoy uninterrupted time with them but know both of you have some things you need to handle.
2. If there is a situation where you are expecting an important call, let others know ahead of time and then take the call in a place where others will not be disturbed. In a restaurant enjoying a meal, most of us do not want to hear every word of a neighboring conversation. It is easy to forget so it is important to periodically notice what choice you have made in a similar situation.
3. Do not just start texting someone in the middle of a conversation. If it something related to plans you are making let the person know what you are doing and do not let it become the focus of your time together.
4. Honor signs indicating restrictions on cell phones.
5. If you need to answer the phone, keep the conversation as short as possible and excuse yourself if it is necessary to speak for awhile. Apologize for the interruption or thank the person for understanding. Acknowledging how the other person might feel can go a long way in relationship building.
6. Remember you teach people how it is okay to treat you so have a conversation and set some guidelines ahead of time. Share what is important to you. One couple has all the “kids” put their phones in a basket in the front hall and they take a break periodically so everyone can catch up on messages and connect with their friends.

The greatest gift you can give someone is your attention. When another person feels unimportant as a result of someone’s choices, over time it can cause hurt feelings and create awkward situations as well as weaken connections.

Over Thanksgiving I was with close friends spanning three generations and the younger two girls were texting quite a bit after the meal and everyone was starting to relax. What was fun to watch, however, was how they shared pictures and videos of fun things that were being sent from other cousins all over the country who were not there to share the holiday with them.

Make some choices ahead of time as to what you value and how you want to act in situations where technology could infringe on your time spent with others.

“Good manners are just a way of showing other people we have respect for them.”  Bill Kelly

Further resources: Gift ideas and products to enhance time spent together including reminiscence puzzles and conversation starters. Click here for more ideas about CREATING TIME WELL SPENT.

Link to “Memory Matters” for ALL Ages  cable television show: Multitasking Etiquette (available soon)

About Kathryn Kilpatrick

Kathryn Kilpatrick received her Master's degree in Speech-Language Pathology in 1968 from the University of Massachusetts. She has worked in a variety of settings, primarily in Ohio, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and for decades in the area of home health care. Kathryn is president of Memory Fitness Matters ( and Communication Connection( She offers memory coaching for all ages and has a geriatric consulting practice. She is a national motivational speaker and author of more than 30 products to enhance communication and connection as well as a Memory Fitness Toolkit. Kathryn brings her decades of experience as a speech-language pathologist to all those wanting to enhance their quality of life, particularly when there are communication, memory and cognitive challenges. Her websites offer information on a wide variety of topics related to elder care concerns as well as memory fitness and successful aging.
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