While the basic tenets of polite society will likely never change, the 21st Century has thrust us into a new age wherein new perspectives on etiquette must be determined on an almost daily basis. Between smartphones, Bluetooth earpieces, and tablets, the current ubiquitous promise of communication can make social situations very difficult to navigate. If you own any of the above devices and have struggled with determining how to use them when out at a party or dinner, we’d suggest perusing the list below, chock full of criterions intended to outline proper behavior in situations involving everyday gadgets.
[Note: many of the tips below do not really apply to casual situations that involve you and your really close friend(s). Also exempt from the rules: emergency situations involving terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and Cloverfield monsters.]
Keep it in your pants.
Unless there is some necessary social-related issue like “I need to see if [Friend X] is going to meet us” or “what time does the next train run?”, there is really no need to initiate activity on your phone during social situations or to even put the phone on the table/bar. Divert any of your “I wonder what’s happening on Twitter…” effort and energy into saying something interesting to your peer(s).
Avoid forced eavesdropping.
If the world cannot escape you and your conversation, you shouldn’t be having a conversation. In an elevator, in a car, on an airplane before take-off – you wouldn’t want to be forced to listen to a stranger talk into a phone, so why force that scenario upon someone else?
Don’t corner people.
When you want to ask someone to join you for an event, explain the event in the invitation. Party invitations don’t say “What are you doing on August 30th?” and nothing else – they explain that on that date, a party is taking place. When you text or call a friend to invite him or her somewhere, explain why you are asking “are you busy later?” (i.e., “what are you doing tonight? A bunch of us are going to see Captain America”). You wouldn’t want to be trapped by a non-specific invitation probe by anyone else, so always elaborate on your invitation plans and extend some courtesy to others.
Keep it classy.
Novelty ringtones were relevant and funny for about 15 minutes, six years ago. At this point, if you’re going to allow your phone to make audible notification sounds (rarely necessary, with the advent of vibration), you should choose something basic and as un-obnoxious as possible. Translation: no clips of anything from the Billboard Top-40. Turn off all ringers when not at home or only with friends. At work, always on vibrate.
Learn the quickest way to silence your phone.
On some models, you can do this without even taking it out of your pocket. On others, you may need to make a few practice runs so that, at a moment’s notice (*ahem* in a movie theater), you can ensure it doesn’t bother you or anyone else.
Alert the audience.
If you are expecting an important, must-be-answered phone call that may take place during the course of your time with others, give the rest of your party (your date, girlfriend's parents, etc.) proper warning that you may be occupied at some point. It is not only thoughtful and respectful but the heads-up also ensures you won’t look like a total jerk taking calls during dinner.
Get up and go.
Even when in places where others could escape your phone call, you should still always leave the table and/or room when receiving a phone call. Always. Nobody likes to listen to 50% of a phone conversation and more importantly: who likes to have a phone conversation while other, uninvolved parties wait for you to finish? Blech.
Let it go.
Just because your phone is ringing doesn’t mean it must be answered (especially when you’re not expecting an important call). The majority of your attention in any social situation should be focused on the faces and voices around you, not those waiting on the other end of a phone line. Plus, if you’re following along with these rules of behavior, your ringing phone will probably be on ‘vibrate’ by now… you see where I’m going with this.
An aural signal flare.
If you don’t leave a voicemail (even a quick, meaningless one), you cannot confidently expect a return call. Especially when you’re calling someone who may not have your number stored in his or her phone.
Finish what you started.
In the event of a dropped or disconnected call, the person who made the call in the first place should re-initiate the call. This will avoid the both-to-voicemail nightmare.
Take a hint.
If someone texts you, do not respond with a phone call. They are clearly in a situation wherein they would rather text than call (whether that’s due to a personal preference or determined by some outside factor like their location is irrelevant) so, respect that obvious signal and reply in kind.
Though most of us despise talking on the phone and regarded the swift rise of text messaging as a divine gift from another dimension, there are still situations in which phone calls must take precedence. If you want to schedule something with someone within 90 minutes, a phone call is the best course of action.
I understand that availability at a future date is not always certain but if you’ve ever distributed any sort of invitations (whether in the form of a tangible snail mail message, mass text or Facebook event), you know that nothing is more annoying than when a majority of the invitees fail to respond in any way. “Not Attending” isn’t a positive response but at least it’s a semblance of human acknowledgment. I’d rather have 100% of my guests turn me down than 98% of them leave me hanging (especially when it’s obvious that their non-responses are just passive forms of “No”). And in the case of digital invites, it’s not like you even need to really do anything – it’s a few clicks.
Know your audience.
With the advent of instantaneous messages, it’s always a good idea to be aware of who is in the “To:” field. Often, we’re so interested in responding quickly to a message that we neglect to notice the enacted “Reply to All” option or that we are actually in a different chat window and we end up disseminating a personal message to the wrong person or an entire group.
Speak like a human.
If you’re making an effort to conduct yourself in an acceptably polite manner when it comes to modern society, you need to employ proper spelling and reasonable grammar in your texts, emails, and IMs. It’s not 1998 anymore and this isn’t an AOL chat room — your language needs to grow up at some point. Now, I understand that certain situations don’t allow for flowery language or compound sentences but even in a curt and succinct message, there is no reason to flout linguistic rules. Nobody’s time is so valuable that proofreading a message (of any length) is beyond reason.
Try to save Face[book].
Sometimes, certain circumstances can compromise our ability to determine what sort of information should be disseminated through our social network profiles. Late nights, emotional duress, and certain foreign substances in the bloodstream all wield considerable power in the face of our glowing computer screens. Fortunately, these errant decisions can be quickly remedied by clicking that little [X]. However, sometimes the damage done by a certain Facebook revelation lingers long after deletion. Thus, a good pre-posting rule of thumb is to just avoid posting anything that can’t be unseen. Your friends, family, and Mark Zuckerberg will thank you.