Technology impacts society in many ways — some of which are obvious and others more subtle — and those changes often call for changes in behavior. Etiquette is an important social construct that we tend to forget or ignore, but I would argue that etiquette has never been more important than now. One misstep could permanently damage or fracture your relationship with another.
Technology etiquette could easily fall under the topic of “common sense” yet there are many who remain ignorant — and that’s not a judgment against those who don’t know any better. For a long while, I never knew the acceptable rules of etiquette for handling phones, shooting emails, and general Internet behavior. I was being rude without even knowing it, and there’s a chance you could be doing the same.
Check out these ten rules of etiquette for today’s technology and see if you are making missteps without even knowing that you are.
Set Your Phone On Silent
Cell phone interruptions can be frustrating for those around you, especially when you’re in a situation where nearby people are trying to pay attention: watching a movie, studying a book, listening to a lecture, working, or what have you. Sure, if you scramble fast enough you can shut off that ringer within seconds, but by then the interruption has already been made. Please learn to silence your phone.
Fortunately, there are apps that automatically silence your phone, whether according to a schedule or for set periods of time. These apps are great because there’s very little effort required on your part.
Stop Playing With Your Phone
There are few things more frustrating than trying to hold a conversation with someone whose attention is split in half, mumbling quick sentences while tapping away on their phone. It’s ironic that social networking and social media were meant to keep us all connected, yet those things often lead to us being disconnected from the real, physical relationships around us.
Please stop fiddling with your phone, tablet, or laptop while in a social situation. If you’re just hanging out as a group, that’s fine, but if someone’s trying to have a real conversation with you, put it away – unless there’s a good reason, like looking up directions or checking for movie times.
Be Timely And Be Considerate
One benefit of today’s mobile technology is that we can pretty much reach anyone we want to in an instant. Gone are the days where you had to wait until someone was at home before you could talk to them. Even voicemails are going out of style as text messages can fulfill the same role in most cases. But this constant-connectedness means we have no excuse when we don’t keep someone updated.
If you’ve agreed to meet someone at 5:00pm and you’re running a bit late, please call them or shoot a text and let them know when they should be expecting you – at least then they can find something to do instead of sitting around and twiddling their thumbs for half an hour.
And if you have to cancel, then for all that is good and pure, please let them know as soon as possible. Like, right away. That gives the person the maximum amount of time to rearrange their schedule or find something else to do in lieu of your cancelled meetup.
No Electronics In Movie Theaters
On the topic of being considerate, please refrain from checking your electronic devices when you’re in a movie theater. You might think you’re being sneaky and undetected, but trust me, you aren’t. Even when the phone screen is dimmed to the max, the light still shines bright enough for it to be a distraction.
And I hope this would go without needing to be said, but please review the previously mentioned tip and silence your phones! At the very least, set it to vibrate, and never speak on the phone while the movie is playing. Take it outside.
No Caps Lock, No Text-Speak
Text messages are no longer for teenagers only. Bosses now hold text conversations with employees. Event organizers send texts to each other while a live event is ongoing. Even mom and dad are texting their children now. This means that you should be as clear and ease-to-understand as possible — in other words, no text-speak and no caps lock.
Obviously, if it’s just between you and your friends, speak however you want to speak. But in situations that call for proper etiquette, never use “lol wuts up boss?” or “can u come in a few hours early m8?” It just screams juvenile. This rule extends across any communicative medium that uses text – emails, instant messages, social networking sites, etc.
The Internet Is Not Your Soapbox
People who complain all the time are unpleasant to be around, and that remains just as true on the Internet. We all know a person or two (and hopefully not many more) who are constantly whining, venting, raging, or otherwise badmouthing whatever misfortune is plaguing them at the time. These people are mood-killers and their bad attitudes are dangerously contagious.
It’s all right to rant every once in a while provided that you do it in an acceptable place; a personal journal is a good place to start. But if the majority of your forum posts, wall posts, emails, texts, and instant messages are negatively charged in some way, then it’s almost a guarantee that you’re putting off a lot of people.
Keep Your Tone In Mind
If you’re one who tends to be sarcastic over text, even if it’s not biting sarcasm, you should be wary of which people you’re being sarcastic towards. Tone is nearly impossible to convey over a text-only medium because you miss out on body language, facial expressions, and intonation, so if you don’t pay attention to your tone there’s a good chance that you’re inadvertently offending a few people with it.
This applies to more than just sarcasm. Even when you’re innocently trying to explain a concept to someone, for example, the lack of text tone could make your words seem condescending, and that alone could cause a lot of inter-relational problems at work. Before you send out a message, read it over a few times and look for places where your tone could be misinterpreted.
Don’t Try To Win Arguments
There’s something about the Internet — perhaps the supposed anonymity of it all — that brings out the worst in people, and that includes the tendency to argue. Opinion wars happen all the time, particularly on forums and blog comments, and they rarely accomplish anything except to tarnish relations between people.
It’s one thing to offer your opinion or to present a fact correction, but it’s another to be stubborn. When your goal starts to shift from “furthering the discussion” to “proving I’m right,” that’s when things fall apart.
Email Is A Beast Of Its Own
There are entire articles dedicated to etiquette tips for email. It’s a medium that’s still being used in personal and professional capacities even 20 years after its debut, yet so many people still stumble with proper email etiquette. I know I do. Email requires you to walk a fine line between “too formal” and “too informal” and that’s what can trip you up.
Sometimes email etiquette is about following proper conventions. Sometimes it’s about leaving out the offensive and annoying bits of your emails. And sometimes, it’s just about replying in a calm and sensible manner, even when you’re the one who’s been offended.
Humans Are More Valuable Than Electronics
In the end, issues of poor technology etiquette almost always occur when we start to believe that our devices (or our usage of our devices) are more important than humans. We fiddle with our phone because Plants vs. Zombies matters more than genuine conversation. We forget that there are real people behind those forum usernames. Our fun justifies our disrespect of others.
And none of this has to be with malicious intent. It could be innocent forgetfulness. I admit that it happens to me all the time. But if you’re concerned about proper technology etiquette, this is the one rule you should remember above all the rest: technology does not give you the right to devalue another person.