“Can You Hear Me Now?” Contracting Etiquette in a Digital Age


When Janell Burley Hofmann wrote her article about the contract she expects her teenage son to sign in order to accept usage of his new iPhone, no doubt she expected some commentary and feedback. She probably didn’t think that the contract would go viral or land her a spot on daytime television. And no doubt she didn’t think the article on Huffington Post “To My 13-Year-Old, An iPhone Contract From Your Mom, With Love” would, as of the time I’m writing this piece, have been emailed over 4,000 times, tweeted over 1,800 times, shared on Facebook by over 23,000 people, and liked by close to 87,000 people. But it has.

And here’s why. It isn’t that Janell Burley Hofmann’s contract doesn’t contain items that thousands (nay, tens of thousands) parents discuss with their children when handing them technology (whether in the form of an iPhone, laptop, or even a tablet), it’s that it was written in a clearly loving and compassionate way. It was, as many parents try to be, proactive in addressing the “what ifs” of technology uses, and abuses, as well as trying to help establish and address healthy communication habits before bad habits set in.

Violation #11 and #4

And I think an additional reason why this has been shared so frequently, is that, in truth, we adults are guilty of some of the more egregious and negative behaviors than the positive. How many times have we all sat in a movie theater and either answered our phone or seen someone answer the phone and start talking over the films dialogue? Or been to dinner with friends and instead of enjoying our meal, taken a photo and Instagramed it? (That’s a violation of rule number 11 by the way.) And I am certainly guilty of not turning off my tech at a reasonable hour–and judging by the many tweet, posts, and texts I see after hours, many of my friends are guilty of breaking rule number 4 on a regular basis.

As a culture, we need to respond to these rules because so many of us feel that although there is technology available to connect us with one another, these are often not real connections. Liking a status on Facebook is great, but wouldn’t it be better to pick up the phone and call someone and tell them you are thinking of them?

A rule not on the list: answering

If I could add an additional rule, I would add this: When someone texts you, reply. You don’t have to write a novel (something people who text me know I’m seriously guilty of and am working on, honest) but an acknowledgment that you received the message. Furthermore, if you have the time to text, you probably have the time to actually make the call, especially if you are texting someone for over 20 minutes. Texting isn’t a conversation. It’s a sharing of information.

Once we used to write letters. Then we used to make phone calls asking for an operator to connect us. Now we send holiday greetings via an email, or simply post what would have been our holiday card on our FaceBook page hoping that everyone sees it. We text, but don’t return voice mails, or even use our phone to call someone. We have lost the art of the conversation, of building and navigating relationships, of making real, substantial connections. Far too often we are too easily offended and too quick to not try to clear up misinformation or a misinterpretation of a situation. Instead we break rule number 8 all too frequently, thinking we’ve “talked” when we’ve only “talked at” someone.

If Janell Burley Hofmann’s simple rules can help her act as both a parent and a partner to her son, then it is a contract he would be fortunate to sign. And if we, as adults, take the same rules and apply them to our own interactions, we would be well served, indeed.

What rule would you add to your contract? 

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