These kinds of devices are the kinds of things that can easily lead to an EDI, otherwise known as an electronic display of insensitivity. (Patricia Yollin/KQED)
These devices are the kinds of things that can easily lead to an EDI, otherwise known as an electronic display of insensitivity. (Patricia Yollin/KQED)

There’s a rampant epidemic of EDI that is spreading all over the country. And it seems to only be getting worse.

EDI — not to be confused with an EMF, an IED or the EDD — is an electronic display of insensitivity. Apparently, this kind of social abomination is everywhere.

According to a research study of 2,025 people that was released on Wednesday, nine out of 10 participants said that, at least once a week, friends or relatives stop paying attention to them because they’d rather check out what’s happening on their digital devices. Eighty-nine percent report damaged relationships as a result of insensitive or inappropriate use of technology, and one in four say that an EDI has resulted in a serious rift.

And 87 percent of those surveyed maintain that EDIs are worse and more common today that they were just a year ago.

The study of digital divisiveness was conducted and paid for by VitalSmarts, a company in Utah focused on corporate training and leadership development; the researchers coined the term EDI.

There appears to be a big gap between theory and practice: More than 90 percent of respondents agreed that people should not check their social media profiles or answer texts while they’re driving, in church or school, at the dinner table or during a customer service interaction. And yet the study found that 93 percent regularly witnessed someone committing an EDI while driving, 67 percent at the dinner table, 52 percent during a customer service interaction, 35 percent at church and 25 percent at school.

Judging by the study, it seems that things are out of control and humans are on the losing side of the digital divide. One in three people said they cope with an EDI by ignoring it – in some cases because they figure it will be over soon or don’t want to offend the oaf who’s committing it.

Even when it’s a close relationship, people are still wimps about speaking up. The survey said nearly two out of three people don’t have a clue “how to effectively reduce the impact of others’ inappropriate use of technology.”

So, how do you compete with a device? It’s possible that you can’t because — given how people behave when they’re walking down the street, taking public transit or hanging out in a cafe — the device will almost always win.

Predictably, however, the co-founders of VitalSmarts, who also wrote a New York Times best-seller called “Crucial Conversations,” have some suggestions:

  • Take the high road and assume that people have the best intentions and their EDIs are urgent.
  • Set specific boundaries.
  • Describe the consequences of an EDI rather than disparage the offender’s moral character.
  • Don’t measure your influence by whether people comply.
  • If nothing else works, let it go and move on.

When asked if he ever commits an EDI, Joseph Grenny, one of the researchers and a co-author of “Crucial Conversations,” told KQED: “Yes. I have gotten good about pulling over when driving to text. But I succumb at times to looking at incoming ones.”

Grenny said, “The best path out of our impulsive present is to begin to notice its effects on our emotional lives. I’ve begun to use a mantra — ‘this won’t feel good’ — to remind myself that addictive connection to technology is costing me peace and connection.”

The behavior, he said, is a result of intentional design — sound engineering and brain science have influenced designs that trigger impulsive responses in us.

“This is why the only way out is greater consciousness of consequences,” Grenny said. “Or shutting the bloody things off.”

Those surveyed were asked for the most dramatic, obnoxious or funny examples of an EDI that they had experienced. They had no trouble coming up with stuff: A young woman in a movie theater reluctantly stopped texting upon request, but left her Bluetooth headset on — and the flashing blue light was more annoying than the glow of the phone. Someone who was texting walked into a sign post. A woman on an anniversary date with her husband said he was on the phone the entire time and went outside to continue the conversation after he finished eating.

One man wrote: “In my next life, I’m coming back as a smart phone, so the chicks will dig me. My wife, a teacher, decompresses by spending her entire evening (2.5-3 hours) with her phone, looking at videos, reading articles, messaging, researching what she’s barely watching on TV, etc. If we exchange two sentences, that’s a breakthrough. Extremely frustrating. I have to tell her to put her phone down & turn off the TV to have her undivided attention for a conversation. After 10-15 minutes, she cannot refrain from picking up her phone again.”

Of all the examples, this was perhaps the most egregious: A cellphone went off at the end of a funeral as the casket was rolling down the aisle. And the ring tone was: “Gentlemen, start your engines!”


Patricia Yollin

Pat Yollin has written about all kinds of stuff, including wayward penguins at the San Francisco Zoo, organ transplants, the comeback of the cream puff, New York on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, a Slow Food gathering in Italy and the microcredit movement in Northern California. Among her favorite stories: an interview with George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch, a profile of Italy's consul general in SF, and a pirate Trader Joe's operation in Vancouver that prompted the grocery chain to sue -- and lose.

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