Bill's Conversational Musings

Digital Chivalry

Knight with cell phone

It seems we are becoming more and more attached to our digital devices. Phones, tablets, watches all clamor for our attention. We (including me) freely give it to them. We can spend hours on social media, news and interest sites. But to what degree do we find it impacts our interaction with others? Is there a code of conduct to follow?

What is Chivalry?

First, what is chivalry? From the medieval times it means a religious, moral or social code. More importantly it was the qualities expected of a knight. Years later there has been listed nine noble virtues: Courage, Truth, Honor, Fidelity, Discipline, Hospitality, Self-Reliance, Industriousness and Perseverance.

Many of these qualities overlap. In this article I will just touch a couple. Some have, in this article's discussion, different distinctions than what you might think. And this article is not intended to be end-all for netiquette tips. Those can be found all over the place.

Just to be clear. I am guilty of many of the actions listed below. I enjoy my digital experience and use my phone more than most.

Honor (Respect)

Put the phone away. I know it's hard to do. In a close, personal situation, unless it is urgent or you are expecting a critical message from somebody, please put the phone away. Every time the phone dings or buzzes many I encounter cannot resist the urge to check it.

"I'm multi-tasking." That's a myth. A person can only think about one thing at a time. Yes, you can switch back and forth quickly but when you are thinking about one thing, the other things are being neglected. And, that other "thing" might be a person who really values the time they are spending with you.

Let that sink in for a second.

We are terrified of offending someone but do not think twice about disrespecting them. By checking your phone it shows a lack of respect for the person or persons you are with. Is the information more important than what you are discussing? Yes or no that's the message you project.

I have even read where we should go back to wearing a watch. Because when I am sitting across from a person I can't tell if they are checking the time or Facebook.

Discipline (Courtesy)

One of the reasons I view movies at the Alamo Drafthouse is for their texting = talking policy. They are a local theater in the Texas area that takes the movie experience very seriously. They make it very clear before the movie begins that talking and texting will not be tolerated. They also give patrons a way to notify management is somebody around them is breaking the rule.

Discipline = consequences.

But take what was learned in this experience and apply it to other aspects of your life. It takes discipline to know the impact of using a device around others how ever subtle. From that we learn the value of ignoring it when others are around and checking it later.

There have been some prototype devices that would disable not only smart phones and tablets but TVs too when activated. I am learning that it is important to communicate to those you encounter about how you feel about their usage of digital devices.

There might be some frustration and push-back at first but message will become clear that you value the time you spend with others.


There is a lot more that could be said on this subject. Truthfully, this article is different than the one I originally set out to write but it seemed like something that needed to be said.

The common courtesy one person shows towards another seems to get less and less as time goes by. Put a phone in one or both of their hands and it drops even further. Put them behind the wheel and it gets downright perilous.

Maybe what this all boils down to is the sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. And, in the scope of human interactions and etiquette this form of communication has just appeared. We are citizens in a new and exciting digital world. So we do not yet consider what is acceptable.

Perhaps we need a social code of conduct before we achieve and uphold digital chivalry. Maybe that starts with teaching the children.

Have a comment?

So, what do you think? Did I miss anything? Is any part unclear?

Send me a message on Twitter

Image Source