For those of us who earn our living working online, the always-connected lifestyle can have its benefits and its drawbacks. I spend most of my day at my computer, whether I am in my office or working from other locations. When I step away from the laptop, I rely heavily on my phone as a way to check email, Twitter and RSS feeds, and I use it to look up information or get a map to the location for my next meeting. However, it isn’t always clear when using these devices violates the social rules defining acceptable behavior. In the New York Times, Alex Williams shares his views on the topic of smartphone usage and manners, so I thought that I would try to outline my take on appropriate use of devices in various social situations.
Conferences and events: For most events, using a laptop or phone falls within the boundaries of acceptable behavior. We use our devices to take notes, blog or tweet about the event, and keep up with our email and other work during these events. Possible exceptions to this rule could be where the event is small and intimate, or where most of the attendees are not computer-savvy and so someone typing on a laptop might seem out of place.
Company meetings: In this case, it depends on the company or the situation. In several of the technology companies where I have worked in the past, everyone brought laptops to meetings and used them to take notes or keep up with important emails during the breaks. In some companies, you might find that laptops are only acceptable in meetings where they are absolutely required: Bringing your devices to these meetings would likely be frowned upon. It also is usually inappropriate to bring your devices to very small meetings with only a couple of people.
Client meetings: You should expect to keep your laptop closed and your phone put away during important meetings with clients (you know, those people who pay you to do stuff for them). This was the biggest adjustment for me when I became a freelance consultant. I’d spent years working at technology companies where I could always open the laptop to take notes or add items to my task list. I had to (gasp!) start carrying a pad of paper and a pen to use for my notes during client meetings. Exceptions can be made when you need to show the client something, or if you need to take a lot of notes (first ask if they mind if you take notes on your laptop).
Important meetings: For important meetings with executives, interviews or other critical meetings, play it safe and keep the devices put away. You don’t want to blow a great opportunity by doing something silly.
Social settings: It depends. When I am hanging out with my techie friends, it isn’t unusual for over half of us to be sitting with computers or our phones while also engaging in conversation. However, with other friends, the devices stay put away. In general, take your cues from the other people in the room to decide whether you should be texting or reading email.
These are some of the things that I think about when deciding whether or not to open the laptop or pull my phone out of my pocket. As you can see, there are no hard-and-fast rules, and I have probably made a few mistakes with my own device usage. I like to be connected, and I probably push the limits of acceptable behavior in most cases.
Where do you draw the line between acceptable and rude behavior with your electronic devices?