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As the Saw Turns by Jim Obermeyer
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As The Saw Turns: Technology and Protocol

by Jim Obermeyer

Technology. It’s everywhere. And I literally mean everywhere. It continues to interrupt otherwise quiet or semi-quiet spaces. And it continues to cause its users to violate otherwise standard protocol.

I’m sitting in one of my go-to breakfast places, which under normal conditions is relatively quiet, other than the somewhat muted background music and relatively soft voices of other diners talking to each other.

And then there is the one man sitting in a booth, laptop open, having a video conference with several people on the screen, I know this because I can hear him very clearly–and so can the rest of the patrons–and I can also hear the man and woman on the screen, their voices turned up louder than normal conversation would dictate.

There are occasional glances–and scowls–aimed his way from a number of the people in the room, but he is totally oblivious to the fact that he is disrupting breakfast for all of these people.

This is certainly not the first time I have seen this sort of thing. We’ve all been in airport waiting lounges where that one lone individual is wandering the aisles talking loudly to himself. Or so it would appear, until you realize he is on the phone with someone. I often wonder if the person on the other end of the conversation is aware that the details of their talk are being shared with an airport full of people. The things we learn about total strangers.

And when I say “everywhere,” I mean everywhere. The conversation going on in the stall next to me in the restroom always catches me off guard. Really, you have to have your speaker on?

Let’s be clear, this is not a rant on technology itself. This is all about the use of technology. What is it about possessing this ability to communicate in this fashion that causes people to completely forget–or ignore–the standards of protocol?

If the man in the breakfast restaurant had been sitting across the table from his two senior managers (a fact that I, along with the rest of the patrons, learned that morning) would they have been speaking so loudly? Most likely not.

If the person wandering up and down the aisles of the airport waiting lounge sharing his side of the conversation with everyone in earshot had been physically sitting next to that person, would we have all gotten to learn about his failed attempt to close a sale that day? I’m going to say “no.”

And really, you’re going to have a serious conversation with your girlfriend while “seated” in the restroom?

Have we become so enamored with the technology–stopping mid-stride on a busy sidewalk to take a selfie, sending everyone else glancing off one another in an attempt to avoid a direct collision–that we have lost all connection with the standards of behavior in public places?

Or maybe I am approaching this from the wrong perspective; perhaps behavioral standards and protocol, perhaps what was once referred to as “manners,” are no longer applicable to today’s culture. Have no fear, this is not going to denigrate into another diatribe on generational differences. From what I see, this behavior spans all generations and all cultures.

It seems to be more about what the technology “allows” us to do. And perhaps the shift has been more of a move to “me” than to “us.” In all of these examples, it would appear that the person is more concerned about their own situation and becomes less aware of the environment around them–the quiet breakfast place, an airport lounge full of people, a crowded sidewalk.

As more and more people adopt and implement technology in this fashion, I can only imagine where this could go. Imagine a dozen or so “live” conversations in a once-quiet restaurant, dozens of loud talkers in airports and total disruption on the sidewalk. I’ll be running for the cover of a quiet place, if such a place will even exist…

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 35 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house owner. He is currently a vice president at Hamilton Exhibits and can be reached at jobermeyer@hamilton-exhibits.com.

This column originally appeared in the May/June issue of Exhibit City News, p. 12. For more pictures and original layout, visit https://issuu.com/exhibitcitynews/docs/may-jun_ecn2018 

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