Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Are We Forgetting How To Be Honest in Person? (Read our new essay at Time.com)

From Po:

This essay started when Ashley and I were talking about the SCRAM ankle bracelet.

36 states have adopted the SCRAM ankle bracelet to monitor DUI offenders. The bracelet tests ankle sweat for traces of alcohol, and if you have one drink, it relays the results back to a computer in Colorado. The local police are notified, and your license is suspended immediately. It sounds like a good idea, but we were particularly interested in how this technology automates punishment. There's no chance to please forgiveness. If the SCRAM senses alcohol in your sweat, you're busted. No exceptions. But we also started thinking how nice this technology is for the friends of the offender, who no longer have to be in the constant role of policing their buddy. And many of the offenders have said they actually like having the SCRAM as a legcuff. Why? “It gives me a golden excuse to avoid peer pressure to party,” said one. They no longer have to utter those uncomfortable words, “I don’t want to.” They get to say, “I can’t.”

We need an excuse, it seems, more and more. We need a way to soften difficult conversations. We need some way of introducing ourselves to strangers, and we need a way to complain, and we need a way to be brutally honest. New technology happens to be very good at filling this need. We rely on it, more and more, to assist in a variety of difficult conversations.

But it comes with a cost. The more we rely on the gamut of technology (called ID, voicemail, email, SMS, Tivo) to avoid having direct contact when delivering tough news, the more we forget how to have these same conversations face to face. We particularly worry for youngsters, who might never hear or see these conversations modelled.

The SCRAM bracelet, which started off our train of thought, never made it into our essay. But I hope you like it anyway. Click here to jump to Time and read our essay. Comments still aren't enabled at Time.com, but we welcome them back here on this site.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it seems that I'm one of the first ones to give a reaction, but I was touched by your essay and forwarded it to my friends!

it's true that technology makes some things easier, sometimes *to* easy.

you should read some things from the French philosopher Levinas, who set up a big part of his philosophy about "the look of the other" (le regard de l'Autre).

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting food for thought. I often wonder if someone lied, then does it mean that the person lied to get what they want or lied because they are afraid to tell the truth?

Not telling the truth in person can be as hard as not telling the truth through technology. If a boyfriend text messaged that he wanted to break up with me, then I save face because I can cry out my heart in private without him seeing me in such an emotional state.

I believe there are various ways of being honest in person. If there is mutual respect on both sides, then it is easier to be honest with each other.

Regarding the SCRAM, I think this technology is great because it is as if the person has the superpower to say NO! Still, there is a difference between being honest about why you cannot drink and the boyfriend being honest in the breakup.


7:29 PM  
Blogger Heather and Dan said...

Seems to me that Princeton has missed something. If you want a place that really dissociates people from social niceties, it is being behind the wheel of a car. Yet, drivers are less rational and more emotional. You could probably say the same about flaming or otherwise being a jerk electronically.

(Hmm... I wonder if I'd diss Princeton face-to-face?)
- Dan

9:37 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Hayley -

I think it's fascinating that you'd rather get a text break-up than an in-person one. KPMG said it did a survey and found that, similarly, employees claimed they'd rather be fired in an email than in person. I didn't really buy that -- since I've seen too many people who had that done, trying to figure out if there was a way to sue over that.

I think if, say the guy was really texting instead of calling, to spare you -- that would be one thing. But I think the impetus here isn't about sparing the receiver of bad news: it seems to be more about the sender's convenience. It's easier / better for him because he doesn't have to feel badly that he made you cry: he can escape the repercussions. That I have a problem with.

I also think that tech is becoming a crutch, and when so much of successful relationships are dependent on communication skills, that crutch is a dangerous thing to lean on.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

Dan --

I loved your comment! Both parts!!

10:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's something that I see occuring as part of the trend of handling issues electronically:

The Internet has become a place where the introverted and passive can be heard. Its also an environment where people can blast others without any accountibility, need for tact or care for the person on the other end.

Many of these folks graduating from college and entering the work force. Some are getting high paying jobs as engineers in companies like Google and Yahoo. Now, instead of blasting the person on the other end of the world, they blast the guy down the hall on company blogs, or "ideas" boards.

You'd think companies would step in, but that's not always the case. We all know, afterall, that "engineers are not great communicators." This all-too-common phrase is the crutch that we allow engineers to use.

"Great communication skills" (interpersonal skills)really seem like they are becomming a legacy requirement for a job.

- Jon

11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

speaking of technology, I came across a site (mobilealibi.com) that allows users to create automated "rescue" or alibi calls to help them escape bad or boring situations like long meetings, blind dates etc. On the one hand, I really find this atrocious - on the other, I really, really like the idea...

11:52 PM  

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