The house no-electronics zone


In my house, I have designated two rooms as the no-electronics zone. No use of electronic gadgets is allowed. No television, laptops, PDAs, cell phones, handheld video games, you get the idea. The purpose of this section of the house is to interact with other people face-to-face.

Now, exceptions have been made for extenuating circumstances. For example, when some of my friends were without electricity due to a power outage, I invited them to my house, and they were permitted to use their laptops in what would normally be the no-electronics zone.

But those are the exceptions. So if you come to my house, remember: The living room and dining room form a no-electronics zone.

[Update 1pm] Return of the nitpicker's corner: Once again, people get distracted by the minutiae and miss the point of the rule. The purpose of the rule is to encourage face-to-face interaction and to discourage activities which cause people to withdraw from each other.

By electronic devices, I mean televisions, laptops, PDAs, cell phones, handheld video games, you get the idea. Digital watches, clocks, and lamps are acceptable, provided they do not prevent you from interacting with others. Checking the time is okay; playing Space Invaders on your digital watch is not. Digital cameras are acceptable if they are being used to take or share pictures. But sitting there sifting through pictures without talking to anyone is not.

If Professor Stephen Hawking comes to visit, his electronic devices are being used to interact with other people and are therefore acceptable.

I didn't feel the need to apply these common-sense rules to the basic principle, assuming that my readers understood the point I was making and didn't need a legalistic breakdown of what is and is not acceptable.

Comments (48)
  1. pspdropship says:

    that’s really a great idea, i’m gonna try it in my house!

  2. John says:

    Oh yeah, well my house is a no no-electronics zone.  People interact with each other Facebook to Facebook.

  3. andy says:

    So a Microsoft Surface is not on the top of your wish list for new living room furniture? :-P

  4. Johnny Mac says:

    I would be lying if I said I hadn’t chatted on MSN to my good mate living one room away. Frequently, at various points over the years. You have to understand though that he’s an intense guy. Sometimes you need that buffer.

  5. Spike says:

    That article about Heathrow T5 is kind of self contradicting.

    In paragraph 2 he says "…not a single power outlet"

    Then in paragraph 3 he tells you where there’s a power outlet.

  6. Jeff Parker says:

    While I do this as well, however I do have one electronic device, a clock and a cd player as sometimes ambient music is appropriate like at large family gatherings like Christmas time. Also people do need to know what time it is. There is always the wind up clock if your really a stickler, but I prefer digital.

  7. quotemstr says:

    That’s a really great idea. I’ve always wanted an old-fashioned study in my house with ceiling-to-floor wraparound bookshelves, overstuffed chairs, lamps and such — might as well make that a no-electronics zone too.

  8. bob says:

    no lights? no music? just people? wow

  9. Brian says:

    I went a couple years without any electronics in my bedroom.  It was nice and peaceful to sleep without any kind of LED or electronic whirring.  Eventually I gave in and got a clock radio after the sun coming through my windows failed to wake me up on time enough times to become a problem.

  10. Bob says:

    Lights are electric, not electronic, so they’re acceptable according to the rules of the house and the rules of etiquette, where making your guests sit in the dark diesn’t work. Quit nitpicking.   :P

  11. Ray9000 says:

    "He-lO RaY-mOn-D…"

    "Hello, professor Hawking… I’m sorry, Stephen.  I’m afraid I can’t let you use that…"

  12. Ablala says:

    Guests have to check their cell phones and PDA’s at the living room door? That’s too funny! I am envisioning a scene from one of these movies where gangsters have to check their armory at the door.

    [They don’t have to check their personal electronic devices at the door, but if it starts beeping/buzzing/etc, they have to leave the room to attend to it. -Raymond]
  13. kbiel says:

    [They don’t have to check their personal electronic devices at the door, but if it starts beeping/buzzing/etc, they have to leave the room to attend to it. -Raymond]

    In my book, that is just common courtesy. Please people, if your mobile phone rings or buzzes, politely excuse yourself and move away (another room or as far out of earshot as possible) from the group or person you are with.  Of course, not every call needs to be answered or every text message responded to immediately.

  14. porter says:

    > In paragraph 2 he says "…not a single power outlet"

    Perhaps it’s a dual socket.

  15. Nick says:

    "Return of the nitpicker’s corner"

    To be fair, I think most of the "nitpicks" were just somewhat tongue-in-cheek jokes. Most people here, myself included, seem to find it a great idea.

  16. Daniel Pratt says:

    For some reason, it amuses me greatly that Raymond Chen, a man apparently blessed with "the social skills of a thermonuclear device", has not one, but two rooms in his house dedicated to personal interaction, to the exclusion of all else.

    p.s. How’s that for a run-on sentence?

  17. Jolyon Smith says:

    “No use of electronic gadgets is allowed.”

    No “if’s” no “buts”, no equivocation.

    “The purpose of this section of the house is to interact with other people face-to-face.”

    Ah right, so these aren’t “electronics free zones”, they are social interaction zones?

    It seems to me you’ve mislabeled the room – would you accuse a woman of nitpicking if they entered a toilet with a symbol of a “woman” on the door if you had instead intended the symbol to represent a “man wearing a kilt” ?

    Your digital camera example only further enforces the dilemma created by your poor choice of label.

    “Taking a picture” is not certain to be a social interaction – a candid snap for example.  Arguably in most cases a photo is a coupled person-machine-person interaction – the only direct interaction between the people involved being a directive to “Say cheese” at the appropriate point.

    Sifting through photos, even on the camera itself, on the other hand could very well be a very social interaction if you are showing those photos to someone and discussing them.

    This is a more socially interactive activity than the person-machine-person scenario of picture TAKING.

    Of course, sifting through photo’s ON YOUR OWN would not be a social interaction, but then presumably no-one is allowed to be in these rooms on their own anyway since no face to face interaction can be occurring with a party of one?!  (unless we’re allowing for interactions with silvered glass… i.e. mirrors)

    [“No use of electronic gadgets is allowed” is a guiding principle, not an immutable rule. Heck, I even gave an example of how the rule can be broken! I chose the name “no-electronics zone” because it’s a cuter name than “social-interaction zone”. I think I’m just going to block further comments; it’s clear that people are being willfully obtuse. -Raymond]
  18. ArC says:

    It seems like social interaction is assumed to be a good thing, or at least better than electronic interaction. I question this assumption.

    [I don’t recall saying that social interaction was better. Just that those two rooms are devoted to social interaction. Feel free to hang out in the parts of the house devoted to electronic interaction. -Raymond]
  19. porter says:

    > It seems like social interaction is assumed to be a good thing, or at least better than electronic interaction. I question this assumption.

    We’ve had 4,000,000 years of social interaction and 100 of electronic. It shows we’ve had more practice at the former.

  20. Xepol says:

    If you have to go to such lengths for face to face interaction, I think you have larger problems than your rule actually addresses.

    I’m assuming this rule is intended to address a problem with people who live in the house, because if a guest came in and ignore me for their doo dad, they would not be invited back. If I ignored a guest, I could not see them wanting to return after being slighted either.

    So rather than your no electronics rule, it might be time for a sit down talk about things like basic courtesy around the house – acknowleding people when they talk to you for example.

    [The rule was not created in response to anything. It’s just a cute rule I came up with. And the great thing is that I’ve never had to explain the rule to anybody; they just figure it out. Sorry everybody is getting all bent out of shape by it. -Raymond]
  21. streuth says:

    Does this mean I’m invited?

    :rofl:

  22. Eric TF Bat says:

    So what you’re saying is that if Stephen Hawkings ever retired as a Professor, you’d refuse to allow him in?

    No wonder Vista is crap!

    (Sorry, I just felt it was important to keep the standard of comments sufficiently low.  Did I succeed?)

  23. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    Do we still have some wikipedians showing up from the earlier linked article, or did this get posted at 4chan or Slashdot or something? The recent posters have shown an amazing lack of knowledge of the rules and conventions of this blog.

    We have people trying to prove they are smarter then Raymond by nitpicking at casual conversation. News flash, you aren’t, and no one cares if you are.

    Claims of being part owner of the blog? Claims that the blog is a Microsoft PR Effort? If you had read the back articles, you would know this is the unpaid work of a man who happens to work at Microsoft. Raymond has an indentity outside of Microsoft, and Microsoft has employees other then Raymond. I am 100% sure that this post was not focus grouped, discusses in team meetings, or approved by Microsofts lawyers.

    Allow me to attempt to talk to these folks in their native language. "lern2read" "reading comprehension 4TW!" <picture of a cat reading>

  24. LongTimeListener says:

    Jolyon, you are 100% correct if you choose to produce a literal breakdown the post.  The spirit of the post, however, is something you’ve clearly missed – probably deliberately, in order to insult Microsoft in some way (yay you).

    I wish Raymond would ban comments.  It’s increasingly tiresome to read an interesting post followed by constant nitpicking.

  25. porter says:

    > The big problem with ‘natural’ conversation is that the information density is just too low

    Perhaps you confuse quality with quantity.

  26. Aaargh! says:

    > I would be lying if I said I hadn’t chatted on MSN to my good mate

    > living one room away. Frequently, at various points over the years.

    I’ve had ICQ conversations with someone sitting next to me in the computer lab. I was also having a different discussion with the same guy on IRC, and another parallel conversation with yet again the same guy face-2-face.

    > The purpose of this section of the house is to interact with other people face-to-face.

    But I can do that just fine while watching television AND browsing the web on my iPhone. I do it all the time. So the purpose of this section of your house is not to interact with people face-to-face but to *only* interact face-to-face.

    The big problem with ‘natural’ conversation is that the information density is just too low, especially when talking to women. I’ve seen women talking to each other for *minutes* without exchanging *any* information, they just do the human equivalent of sending keep-alive packets back and forth.

  27. Scoutmaster Dave says:

    We have the same rule on my Scout troop outings.  Only in our case the "no electronics zone" is everything between the travel to and from.

    Flashlights are "electrical", not "electronic".

    Yes, using a cell phone in an emergencey is an acceptable deviation.

    No, they don’t get to use GPS – that’s what map & compass are for.

  28. Ens says:

    Good god people are stupid.

    It’s like watching 4-year-olds bicker when an adult says it’s 6:30 at 6:28, or tells them to get out of the middle of the road when they are only a quarter of the way across.

    "What if there’s an emergency?".  Nobody could be this obtuse without doing it on purpose.  That question can be worthy once he has an automated gun turret system that fires around anybody casting a suspicious EM field.  Otherwise, the answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it.

  29. Dog says:

    > it’s clear that people are being willfully obtuse. -Raymond

    No they aren’t. Why is it that every time somebody disagrees with you or suggests a way that you could do something better, you take it as a personal attack?

    All Joylon was saying is that the name is somewhat misleading and suggested a better one. If this wasn’t "your"* blog you would most likely be considered a troll.

    *Blogs are not exclusively the domain of the blogger, blogging is (should be) a two-way proccess. Besides this blog is as we all know, part of Microsoft PR. (Not to say that it is run by the PR *department*, but it is a form of Public Relations).

    As for the idea, it seems interesting, but I’m sure that the majority of people don’t have big enough houses to be able to devote an entire room (or two!) to such an experiment. Let us know how it goes.

  30. J says:

    “Otherwise, the answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it.”

    You’d think so.  But once I was at Raymond’s house and we were in one of these rooms.  I felt like I was having a heart attack.  I asked for him to call for help, but he wouldn’t because no electronics were allowed.  When I pulled out my phone, he tackled me to the ground and tried to hold me from using the phone.  With lots of struggle, I managed to knock the phone across the floor until it passed into the “electronics-allowed” room, at which point he let me up.

    Now that the phone was outside the dead zone, he willingly picked it up called for help and an ambulance came.  I was on the floor at this point and could barely move.  But the only way into the house is through the living room, which is no electronics.  When the EMT’s tried to bring in a defibrillator machine, Raymond went into a rage and tried to destroy it.  My recollection is fuzzy, but I think they overpowered and tranquilized him.  I think he was sobbing as they wheeled the machine across the threshold to get to me.

    True story.

    [Wait, J, is that you? Glad you made it through the surgery. Awesome story. I had forgotten it. -Raymond]
  31. I get it! The Chinese emperor Qin made the same type of room, and flodded it with mercury, people are still not sure how to safely enter it, but it sounds spectacular! Soon Raymond will make a modern Terracotta Army – each soldier will be an exact copy of a Microsoft employee.

  32. DWalker says:

    Raymond, some of the nitpicking sounds partly tongue-in-cheek to me.  Everyone should lighten up, including Raymond!  :-)

  33. Dog says:

    > Claims of being part owner of the blog? Claims that the blog is a Microsoft PR Effort? If you had read the back articles, you would know this is the unpaid work of a man who happens to work at Microsoft. Raymond has an indentity outside of Microsoft, and Microsoft has employees other then Raymond. I am 100% sure that this post was not focus grouped, discusses in team meetings, or approved by Microsofts lawyers.

    Way to *completely* misrepresent what I wrote.

    a) Blogging is a two-way process. The whole point of comments is so that commenters can ask further questions, make suggestions and even communicate  with each other. Having been a regular reader of this blog for a number of years, it often seems that Raymond misunderstands this.  When somebody makes a suggestion he often sees it as a personal attack, when somebody asks a question he is usually patronising (especially if the answer was once posted on this blog – people cannot be expected to read all past posts before commenting, or if the answer can be somewhat inferred from the post or links within it). It seems that the only comments Raymond really wants are to the effect of “Great post!” or “Thanks, I never really understood that.”

    b) This blog is written by a Microsoft employee, hosted on a Microsoft server and concerns mainly Microsoft issues. Said Microsoft employee (Raymond) writes about Microsoft and the blog is public. By what definition then, is this blog *not* a form of PR? I specifically said that the blog is not part of the PR *Department* and therefore does not go through focus groups, etc, but I fully expect that even if Raymond does not have to get his posts pre-approved, it is monitored by somebody who has the power to close the blog or take action against Raymond should he post something “bad”.

    [I intentionally chose the name “no-electronics zone” because it’s less boring than “social interaction zone” even if it’s less accurate. Until I posted this blog entry, nobody ever had a problem with the name. They understood what it meant without my having to explain it. It’s just here on the blog where people start nitpicking the choice of words. I think I’ll just pull this category of article from the queue. I don’t need this grief. -Raymond]
  34. KenW says:

    @J: Great post! Like Raymond, glad you survived. <g>

  35. bob says:

    This seems like a fairly good idea. I agree that I was wrong to think of lights as electronics.

    But what if there is an emergency in a non-electronics zone? Could the rules be dropped and cellphone use be permitted under such exceptional circumstances?

    Are cellphones even allowed into the rooms *in case* of emergency? If so wouldn’t they have to be turned on in case the emergancy message was an incoming one?

    [I already gave one example where the rules were suspended right there in the article. You don’t have to check your phone at the door. Get with the spirit of the rule and not the letter of it! -Raymond]/DIV>
  36. Wolf Logan says:

    @J: How’d he manage to tackle you and hold off your phone when he has a withered hand? I call shenanigans.

  37. DEngh says:

    >> The big problem with ‘natural’ conversation is that the information density is just too low

    You have other problems if you think a face-to-face conversation has to have "information density".  

    Perhaps you ought to have one room where electronics *are* allowed.  With a time lock on the door & power outlets.

  38. ::Wendy:: says:

    (Nitpicking)

    Does this mean that there are electronics in the 0.5 bathroom (UK = downstairs toilet) or does this mean that the downstairs toilet is not a social interactive zone,  either, neither, or both.

    (/Nitpicking)

    [I forgot that women treat the bathroom as a designated social interaction zone… -Raymond]
  39. daniel says:

    Wow, some of the comments are really obtuse. I’m an electronics junky (laptop, cell phone), but even I can see the value of setting aside some rooms in a house for social interaction. Good idea, Raymond.

  40. MS says:

    "That question can be worthy once he has an automated gun turret system that fires around anybody casting a suspicious EM field."

    No, he needs a sentry gun that picks off the ridiculous fools who feel obliged to nitpick something as obvious as this sort of thing

  41. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    "I’ve seen women talking to each other for *minutes* without exchanging *any* information, they just do the human equivalent of sending keep-alive packets back and forth."

    I’ve seen a Microsoft guy talking to the audience for like 10 minutes without conveying any information. It was like keep-awake traffic one way:

    http://www.microsoft.com/emea/spotlight/sessionh.aspx?videoid=518

  42. Shenanigans says:

    > @J: How’d he manage to tackle you and hold

    > off your phone when he has a withered hand?

    > I call shenanigans.

    Yes ? What can we do for you ?

  43. Dean Harding says:

    "Having been a regular reader of this blog for a number of years, it often seems that Raymond misunderstands this."

    Raymond could make it a rule that all comments to his blog must be signed off with "I like waffles!" or he deletes them. And guess what? There’s nothing you could do about it!

    I like waffles!

  44. CmraLvr2 says:

    Highly amusing story and thread of comments.

    Someone should use the comments from your various posts to develop a thesis about human behavior.

  45. mbghtri says:

    > "Someone should use the comments from your various posts

    > to develop a thesis about human behavior."

    I know, how about

    "Most people are idiots?" or

    "People are mostly idiots?"

    > "That question can be worthy once he has an automated gun turret system that…"

    I don’t think that will be a problem in the Chen household, since an automated turret is obviously an electronic device, therefore not allowed in the 2 rooms where it would be needed.   8-)

    I love the No Electronics zone idea, Raymond. My bedroom has always been a "No Television" zone, but now you’ve got me thinking about extending the rule to No Electronics (with the single exception of a digital alarm clock). Although technically it wouldn’t be a "Social Interaction Zone", but a "Marital Interaction Zone".

  46. Clarence Odbody says:

    How do you nit pickers ever get anything done? When bottle says lather, rinse, repeat, do you keep going until you run out of shampoo?

  47. Jolyon Smith says:

    @LongTimeListener:  Um, where exactly did I insult Microsoft?

    As for irrelevant minutae, poor choices of name leading to confusion of an otherwise easily understood concept is a recurring theme in this blog.

    In this case it happened to be a room, it’s usually API entry points.

    :)

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