The (mobile) Etiquette Lesson


My three strikes

I’m sitting in The Russian Tea Room feeling very uncomfortable (but happy that I’ve been served very tasty cupcakes and scones for breakfast – sweet!).  I’m here for a “tea” discussing mobile etiquette with Emily Post’s granddaughter, Anna, hosted by Intel (headed up by Intel’s director of the user experience group, Dr. Geneieve Bell).  And of course, I was late.  I mean, if there were one event this month that I wanted to get to on time, it was the one with Emily Post’s granddaughter.  But I was fifteen minutes late, and walked in after everyone was already sitting down and Ms. Post was speaking.  Strike one.

I was very late leaving the house this morning, and didn’t even have a second to suck down a few sips of Diet Dr. Pepper.  I know from experience that If I don’t get some caffeine by about 10am (and pop is the only way I get caffeine), I will get a terrible headache.  So as I flew down Broadway on my way to 57th, I threw some money at a newsstand and grabbed a bottle of Diet Coke.  But I didn’t want to stop to take a drink, since I was already late.  So there it sits, in my purse, and my head is starting to ache.  Taking it out of my purse and opening it with that loud “whooshing” sound would cause everyone in the entire room to look my way. And while I don’t care a ton what this room full of people thinks of me, I care enough that I just don’t know what to do.  Everyone around me is sitting straight in their chairs, drinking tea.  I know that it’s tacky to bring my own drink.  But is everyone else’s momentary comfort worth more than my own?  No, I don’t think it is.  So finally I waved over a waiter and asked for a Diet Coke.  Strike two (but no whoosh).

I also happen to be the only one in the room on a laptop.  I came in (late) and tried to find a seat quickly and quietly and immediately took out my little laptop.  I wanted to tweet about the event and start a post about it.  I was invited here as a blogger and a social media user, right?  But then I happened to look to my left and noticed that there was a whole table of laptops off to the side – had everyone been asked to put them there, so as not to disrupt the talk?  So I quietly asked the woman next to me if there had been an announcement about not using laptops.  She said she didn’t think so.  But I was already getting looks for having my laptop out (or was I?  Was I just paranoid?) so I got up and asked one of the people working the event if there had been anything said about laptops.  She said there had not, except that there was no Wi-Fi.  I was OK there, since I don’t need Wi-Fi for this particular laptop.  So, I turned it on (making noise on start-up, of course – dammit!) and started typing away.  And I feel like I’m still getting looks.  But I see a few people taking notes on paper.  Is this much different?  Probably.  Strike three?

I’m not really bothering anybody

I try not to go through life being a bull in the social china shop.  But I also have to do what’s right for me at any given time, as long as I’m not actively being disruptive.  If anyone in the room is upset that I’m typing away, they’re really being bothered by the idea of it, not by what I’m actually doing.  The sounds of the keys are very quiet.  It’s not a dark room, so the light from the screen isn’t standing out at all.  So I guess it’s a question of attention.  In fact, that’s what Ms. Post is talking about right now, how using a mobile device in certain situations is the equivalent of sneaking out of the back door.  But see?  I’m writing this post about the topic at hand while listening to the talk and taking it all in.

So is what I’m doing “wrong” and is it the job of anyone in this room to tell me?  I don’t think so.  I think that as long as I’m doing everything I can do to not bother anybody, then etiquette-wise I’m fine.  But based on the questions being asked, I’m pretty sure that most people here would disagree with me.  One woman at my table just asked about Twitter.  She doesn’t use it, and it seems that she doesn’t want other people to tweet about her.  So the conversation has drifted to where it is and is not appropriate to tweet (for the record, I’d be tweeting right now if I weren’t locked out of my account again).  Tweeting at a wedding was given as an example, and the answer was that if you’re giving your attention to your mobile device and not to the wedding, that’s a breach of etiquette, and that you’re basically telling everyone who wasn’t invited what they’re missing.  But what about something like this, where I’m here to report about it?  Frankly, if I don’t at least get posts fleshed out while the event is happening, there’s a good chance they won’t get written at all.

The big question

So finally, I had to raise my hand and ask Ms. Post: What should I do in situations were I’m in the room because I’m supposed to be tweeting, or writing a post about the event?  I’ve been at events where the host specifically hoped that I would tweet the event, and then I’ve gotten terrible looks from people around me as I type away on my phone or laptop.  So, my questions was, as long as I’m trying my hardest not to bother anybody, is it OK in these situations to use a mobile device?  And Ms. Post’s answer was a very practical one, that my question was half of the answer: that as long as I’m being careful not to bother everybody, then it’s OK.  But also that I could take it a step further, and ask the host to announce that I will be covering the event online so that the self-appointed etiquette police can go off-duty for a little while, secure in the knowledge that I’m not pissing off the host (of course, she said it nicer than that, but same idea).

Facebook was touched on.  The questions was what to do when someone puts a picture of you online that you don’t want there.  And the answer was to un-tag it and ask the person to take it down.  It’s also OK to ignore a friend request.  In fact, it’s better to ignore it than to point out why you don’t want the person to be your friend.  And a little tip from Anna Post: if you don’t actually click the “ignore” button, then they can’t ask again and bug you.

It is your grandmother’s etiquette

So, it seems to me that the etiquette concerning new technology really isn’t all that revolutionary, and you can really use principals that applied before cell phones and blackberrys and iPods.  Be considerate of others.  Don’t splash other people’s business around without their permission.  Treat others as you would want to be treated.  I think the best thing I ever heard about etiquette was on “Designing Women” when Julia was telling someone that etiquette was invented so that everyone would know how to act and what to expect in different situations – it was not supposed to be a hammer with which to hit people over the head for perceived breaches.  Yes, once again I’m leaving all of the important lessons to TV.

And don’t you see it happen that way all the time?  The douche in the movie theater talking on his phone was also the guy who let the door slam in your face on the way in.  The friend who puts the ugly picture of you on facebook is the same one who gossips about you behind your back.  Technology didn’t change their behavior, it just amplified it.  They’d be rude wherever and whenever.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom.  All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted.  Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

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  1. says

    Great post. :)

    I had occasion to think about this issue just yesterday. I was in Target when I got a phone call. I had my headset on, so I kept shopping while chatting with a friend. I was using a low, normal voice, and bothering no one. And yet — dirty looks, everywhere. Why? I wasn’t talking any louder than I would have been if that friend had been right there in the store with me. I was, in fact, quite a bit quieter than the screaming child (“Not gonna! Not gonna! Not gonna! Not gonna!”… she never stopped, as far as I saw, the whole time they were in the store) — and yet that child’s parents gave me a dirty look! I have to tell you, it pisses me off, because I think *they’re* the ones with poor etiquette, not me.

  2. says

    @Toni – Yeah, this was discussed for a while, that the people giving the dirty looks and tsk tsk-ing you for something that’s not in-their-face rude become ruder than what they think you’re doing wrong. I give looks all the time to people who are talking on their cell-phones with that “cell phone voice.” But it sounds like you were making every effort to be quiet. I do the same thing in stores if I get a call.

    Someone I know – I can’t remember who or I would give credit – says that she stares at the people with rapt attention, then moves in closer, then finally hangs on every word, and then when the call is over asks them a question about it. I don’t think I’d have the balls. :-)

  3. says

    “She” being someone on a cell phone who’s getting dirty looks, or the other way around? I’d love to do that to the people giving me dirty looks. And I don’t agree you wouldn’t have the balls, esp. if provoked. :)
    If I’m on my cell phone in public, I’m as quiet as I would be if the person I’m talking to were standing next to me. That’s my rule. If you and I were in Target shopping together and talking normally, no one would think anything of it. But if I were to be on the phone talking to you at the same volume, I’d get the glares.

  4. says

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with you using your computer. But I do get annoyed with people on the phone. I like it quiet and most people are louder on the phone than when talking to a person across from them. The rudest thing: using your phone as a walkie-talkie and making people listen to both sides of the conversation and that darn “beep” after every sentence.

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