Column: High tech etiquette in a modern world

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 24, 2007

I was walking past a downtown business this week and saw a sign in the door. It read, “We will assist you as soon as you hang up your cell phone.”

The fact of the matter is cell phones are more and more becoming a distraction. Have you ever been standing behind someone in line, and they can’t give their order or make their purchase because they are talking on their cell phone?

It’s downright rude.

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Obviously this particular retailer had trouble with cell phone users to the point it had hampered their ability to conduct business.

The truly sad part of it is that people who use cell phones in that way do not realize how rude or inconsiderate they are being.

With cell phones, the rules of etiquette and civility have all changed. It’s perfectly acceptable

to answer the phone while having lunch with someone. Or in the middle of a conversation. Or how about when you’re on the house phone? Have you ever been talking to someone when they say, “hold on” and answer their cell phone.

And you can hear their side of that conversation while you’re just sitting with a phone to your ear.

Cell phones are fast becoming the top pet peeves on many people’s lists. After all, who wants to be on a plane, or in a movie theater, or anywhere in public and have to listen to a stranger’s personal conversation. The only thing worse than hearing someone’s cell phone call is hearing someone’s two-way cell phone call because you have to listen to both sides of the conversation.

E-mail is just as bad. For some reason, we seem to believe that because it’s high-tech, no rules apply.

People send e-mails indiscriminantly. And say things in e-mail they would not say in person.

I especially dislike chain e-mails. Just because someone else thought it was funny, doesn’t mean I will. Truth is, unless it’s a personal message from a friend or family member, I’d prefer not to receive a joke, or a chain letter.

But, the workplace seems to be where many people have trouble sorting through e-mail. In fact, the two authors of a new book on business e-mail rules were recently on a morning talk show.

The general view of both authors – who are New York Times business reporters – was that e-mail is overused in most businesses. It should be used much more sparingly.

One of the authors said he always asks himself a question before sending an e-mail: Will sending this change anything? If not, he doesn’t send it.

They agreed that negative information should not be conveyed by e-mail, but should be in person. While it is certainly easier to be the sender of bad news by e-mail, it’s not very professional, they said. In person, negative news, or criticism of job performance, is a little easier to take. An e-mail makes the information seem much more abrupt. It’s also a lazy form of communication, they said. Sure it’s more difficult to go and see someone face to face. But that’s a better form of communication.

While cell phones and e-mail have certainly made our lives easier in some ways, both were on a recent web poll as the worst modern inventions. I guess that says something.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.