Tech Usage and Social Norms: Finding The Perfect Balance

Witnessing the tech etiquette trend in practice at MWC 2018

Mobile World Congress 2018
Article by Adam Jones, Director – Digital Products at Freeman

Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the event to attend if you’re looking to uncover the latest tech – and it’s not only relevant to those who play in the mobile space. The event has increasingly broadened its horizons and now appeals to professionals from automotive and manufacturing through to marketing and publishing industries. They know just how important it is to incorporate cutting-edge tools into their business, as it helps ensure they stay ahead of the curve.

This brings me on to the tech etiquette trend, which relates to social rules and norms around the use of technology in our daily lives and at events. It has been around for a while yet remains incredibly relevant today, especially at an event like MWC, where it seems everyone is focused on capturing the latest products or experiences and instantly sharing it with others. Technology is great in the event space as it can be leveraged to enhance the attendee experience, yet overuse of tech can take away from it, too.

The man vs. machine debate

While machines don’t appear to be catching up to us anytime soon (despite the various Hollywood films which might suggest otherwise), artificial intelligence (AI) is on the rise.

It has touched almost every industry, and it is well and truly at play in the event space, too. At Huwaei Wireless X Labs within GSMA’s Innovation City, for example, there’s Cobotta from Denson, a portable robot that weighs just four kilograms. We can simply put in our bags, take it wherever we need to go and have it fulfil the basic tasks that we may not want or have time to do. It’s an interesting development that showcases the real-life potential of AI, yet the tech etiquette question also comes to mind here. While it could be great have this resource on hand 24/7, would it be socially appropriate to bring it out at a restaurant, or during a panel discussion?

Headsets: friend or foe?

VR and AR experiences have been a mainstay at MWC for quite a few years now, and while they might change or become a little more sophisticated each time, the tech etiquette trend is really applicable to this tech. We attend events for the social interaction, so should it be acceptable to wear a headset and take part in an experience on your own? What if the tech went one step further, and attendees could wear a headset while eating their lunch rather than networking?

While not prescribed, there are definite social norms around when this type of tech should be worn. This year, it’s been interesting to see alternative options come to the fore. T-Mobile has a mixed reality experience on its stand – a compromise between the solo, virtual experience and a more interactive one where people are attuned to their surroundings, meanwhile Samsung has created another collective VR experience for attendees, so it feels like more of a shared activity which they can debrief on afterwards.     

Addicted to our screens

MWC is aimed at the tech-savvy, so it comes as no surprise that most of us are glued to our phones, tablets, cameras or laptops as we make our way around each hall. While it’s great to want to capture – and hopefully share – our experiences with others, it means we’re often bumping into each other, lifting our devices up in the air (and in doing so blocking someone else’s view), or we just don’t enjoy the live experience for what it is.

While I don’t see rigid tech etiquette rules becoming effective in the live space anytime soon, It’s important that we learn when it’s the right or wrong time to use our devices. With new technologies constantly emerging new tech etiquette rules will always come to the fore, and it’s up to us to deliver experiences that effectively embrace and weave technology throughout, yet at the same time provide plentiful time for human interaction and ‘switching off.’

Adam Parry
Author: Adam Parry

Adam is the co-founder and editor of Adam, a technology evangelist also organises Event Tech Live, Europe’s only show dedicated to event technology and the Event Technology Awards. Both events take place in November, London.