Tech Etiquette Guide

Tech Etiquette

Say your please and thank yous. Ladies first. The fork goes on the left side of the plate.

The rules of manners and etiquette in everyday life are well established, and for most of us, ingrained since childhood. But when BlackBerrys, iPods and laptops enter the equation, things get a little foggier. And everyone has seen people who could use a gentle prod in the right direction: The idiot yammering on his cell phone in a five-star restaurant, the guy on the subway with his headphones around the neck cranked to max, or the oblivious girl gazing into her iPhone while her date across the table looks for the quickest way to make an exit. But it isn’t always that easy.

For example: Is it less considerate to horde pictures from a night out when other people want to see them, or to post them on Facebook when they might not be flattering for everyone? How many emoticons in an e-mail are too many? And when do you absolutely need to have your phone on vibrate?

Fortunately for us socially inept tech cretins, there are authorities on such things. Thomas P. Farley penned Modern Manners: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Social Graces, wrote a column on etiquette for Town & Country magazine, runs WhatMannersMost.com, and is currently working on his next book, which will focus exclusively on tech etiquette. We sat down with the guru of all things polite to hammer out some basic guidelines for embracing gadgets without driving everyone around you up the wall.

EmailE-mail

As the most well-established form of digital communication, many people have already sorted out the ins-and-outs of e-mail. But that only raises expectations for the right behavior. To begin with, many people tend to abandon the conventions of proper writing just because they’re doing it on a computer. You don’t have to start e-mails with a letterhead or other such relics of the print world, but omitting capitals and no punctuation, or – worse yet – using all caps, are all out. “All these E.E. Cummings wannabes just think speed is more important than punctuation or spelling,” says Farley. “Don’t be so lazy. Spell checker would do 99 percent of the work for you.”

Over familiarity can be another common faux pas. If you don’t know someone, don’t jump right to a nickname, even if it seems like an obvious one. You may be tempted to e-mail joseph_schmoe@hotmail.com with “Hey Joe,” but it’s presumptuous to assume he goes by Joe unless you know him personally, and might start you off on the wrong foot. When is it safe to switch? “Wait until a person responds and signs using a nickname,” says Farley. “Then you’ve got free reign to use it.”

And watch how you use those CC and BCC boxes. Believe it or not, the carbon copy feature wasn’t invented for tattling on coworkers, and blind carbon copies were not for snickering at a series of e-mail replies behind someone else’s back. “Use CC when there’s a genuine reason when someone should be cycled into the conversation,” says Farley. “Don’t use it to pull out the daggers for somebody at work.” Besides being in poor taste, both methods can blow back on you when parties start to realize that their contact with you is no longer private.

As for the contentious issue of emoticons, Farley thinks they’re tolerable, as long as you keep them to only a couple in any given message. Once you go much further, it’s time for a different medium. “If something is that nuanced that you’re having to put in a smiley here, a frown here, a wink, it’s probably a conversation that deserves to be had on the phone,” Farley says.

Annoying Cell PhoneCellphones

Cell phones may be the most complained about of all digital devices, and for good reason. They drag private conversations into the public, push work life into personal life, and with the innovation of texting and smartphones, serve as 24/7 distraction devices. But a few simple tricks can prevent you from being the one who constantly catches icy glares in supermarket aisles.

Number one, just keep your voice down. It may seem obvious, but for whatever reason, people tend to enter their own personal worlds on the phone and lose complete perspective of how loud they’re being – especially in already noisy places where the inability to hear the party on the other end seems to mentally translate to “must shout into the phone so they can hear me.” Simply bringing your voice down a notch will alleviate the biggest slice of cell phone-related irritation, and make the world a quieter place, too.

And know when to simply put the phone away. Movie theaters and the cash register at your local Starbucks stand out as the most commonly cited places to keep it in your pocket, but Farley says he’s a particular stickler for hanging up before stepping into an elevator, where the people around you are quite literally captive to your conversation and only feet away. “There’s nothing more annoying than being stuck in a crowded elevator with someone just blabbering away.”

What about when you’re just hanging out with someone? Moves like pulling your phone out and putting it on the table at lunch like it’s another member of the party are an absolute no-no. “The message you’re really sending to the person you’re with is, ‘You’re not really interesting enough to me to hold my attention for this entire lunch.'” Farley says. “How would somebody feel if you popped out a television and set that down on the dining room table? It’s the same kind of effect.”

Dealing with voicemail properly is a two-way street. On one hand, Farley says callers need to keep the messages they leave for other people short, since not everyone has time to listen to a 10-minute account of your day. On the opposite end, you should make a point of actually listening to the messages people leave for you before calling them back, since asking them to recount the details they already left in a message wastes their time.

When is vibrate appropriate? If you’re a guy and you carry your phone in a pocket, Farley insists as often as possible is the way to go to minimize the disturbance to others when you receive calls. If you’re a woman and carry yours in a purse where you might not feel it go off, a ringtone is OK, but try to stick with a default ringer, and avoid obnoxious sound effects and music. Ringback tones, which replace the ringing sound callers hear on the other end with music, can also be seen as presumptuous. Not everyone wants to be subjected to your choice of tunes as they wait for you to answer.

As for text messaging, know when to use it and when not to. Farley recalls a friend who waited hours at home for a pool contractor, only to find out that the contractor had texted him to tell him he wasn’t coming. He never received the message because his phone didn’t support text messages. Not only had the contractor made the mistake of assuming a text message would reach his client, he clearly copped out in a bind and used a text message to avoid having to explain himself over the phone. Bad etiquette – and business practice – on both accounts.

Which brings us to another all-too-common abuse of tech: Using last-minute messages to friends to cover for your real-life lateness. It may make you feel better to let your friend know you’re still miles away in the car at the moment you’re supposed to be meeting them at a restaurant, but it doesn’t make you any less late. “Before, without the ability to contact someone, you knew they were waiting, you had no way of reaching them, and you pushed yourself to make it on time,” Farley says. “Now people think, ‘If I’m running 15 minutes or half an hour late, I’ll just text them.’ But it’s still inconsiderate.”

Smart Home

Treat your furry friend with the best pet tech at CES 2019

We all want the best for our feline companions and furry best friends, so we're seeing more and more innovative gadgets designed for pets. CES 2019 was a veritable treasure trove of pet tech and these devices are our picks.
Mobile

We tried all the latest and greatest smartphones to find the best of 2019

Smartphones are perhaps the most important and personal piece of tech on the planet. That’s why it’s important to pick the best phone for your individual needs. Here are the best smartphones you can buy.
Gaming

Here's everything you need to know to trade in 'Pokémon Go'

After literally years of waiting, Pokémon Go finally gives trainers the option to trade Pokémon with others. It's not easy, though, and the cost is quite high if you try trading with strangers.
Mobile

Is your smartphone frozen? Here's how to reset your iPhone

You can do a lot with an iPhone, but if you ever run into an issue with it, the first thing you should do is restart it. In this guide, we tell you how to reset your iPhone, and explain how it differs from a factory reset.
Movies & TV

Did I really watch that? Here's how to delete your Netflix viewing history

Everybody has some skeletons in their streaming closet, but you don't have to live with them if you don't want to. Learning how to delete your Netflix viewing history is easy, and we're here to help.
Computing

Is your PC slow? Here's how to restore Windows 10 to factory settings

Computers rarely work as well after they accumulate files and misconfigure settings. Thankfully, with this guide, you'll be able to restore your PC to its original state by learning how to factory reset Windows.
Home Theater

Our quick-and-easy guide to programming an RCA universal remote

If you're tired of using a million different remotes in your home theater, office, or living room, you'll likely be interested in a single RCA universal remote. Here's how to program it for your system.
Home Theater

Need to get rid of an unused Netflix profile? Just follow these simple steps

Need to delete an unwanted profile from your Netflix account? It's easy to do, no matter what kind of equipment you've got. Check out our handy how-to guide for step-by-step instructions.
Computing

Change your mouse cursor in Windows with these quick tips

The standard mouse cursor is boring, so change it! With this guide on how to change your mouse cursor in Windows, you can choose to use one of Microsoft's pre-installed cursors or download something a bit more extravagant.
Computing

Go hands-free in Windows 10 with speech-to-text support

Looking for the dictation, speech-to-text, and voice control options in Windows 10? Here's how to set up Speech Recognition in Windows 10 and use it to go hands-free in a variety of different tasks and applications within Windows.
Computing

Printing to PDF in Windows is easy, no matter which method you use

Microsoft's latest operating system makes it easier than ever to print to PDF in Windows, but there are alternative methods for doing so, even if you want to forgo Adobe Acrobat. Here's how.
Computing

Changing a PDF into an EPUB file is easier than you might think

If you like to read on a tablet or ebook reader, you'll find that ePUB files offer a number of advantages over PDFs. With this guide, we'll show you how to convert a PDF to EPUB in a few quick steps.
Computing

Need to combine a PDF? Here's how to get it done on both Windows and Mac

Sometimes juggling multiple files at once is more of a hassle than a convenience, especially when a single file would do. This quick guide will teach you how to combine PDF files on Windows, MacOS, or with online tools.
Computing

Secure your Excel documents with a password by following these quick steps

Excel documents are used by people and businesses all over the world. Given how often they contain sensitive information, it makes sense to keep them from the wrong eyes. Thankfully, it's easy to secure them with a password.
1 of 2