As technology expands our communicative reach, new opportunities to be rude inevitably arise. Some people overreact to this incivility by turning to uniform and mechanical etiquette rules, hoping to make things better by constraining choices and limiting situational judgment. But for societies that value diversity and autonomy, general mandates—like expecting everyone to turn off their cell phones in theaters—only work in exceptional cases.
The effects of our cellphones, computers, tablets, and who-knows-what-else on the domestic sphere has become a major cause of concern. Some worry that friends and family are rude to each other, glued as they are to their mobile phones, each alone, together. A popular remedy revolves around a simple game: When you meet up with folks you care about, everyone should put their phones in a stack, and either not retrieve them until the gathering ends, or else pay a penalty for early use, like picking up a dinner bill.
While plenty attest that this is a wonderful ritual for boosting attentiveness and pro-social behavior, others lament that banning technology unduly narrows the possibilities for how folks can interact. If you're with a crowd that can bond over online information that’s collectively interesting, and if everyone is ready to put away their phones after the devices are communally used, phone stack rules can be overly restrictive. After all, the crowd that binds themselves to the stack’s power probably does so more because participants recognize personal limits—difficulty resisting the siren call of texts and tweets—than because they lack an intuitive sense of how to properly behave.