Gadgets have changed how we act in public, and generally not for the better. Two-thirds of executives say tech-related rudeness at work is getting worse, according to a survey by IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology. And while various surveys say the use of cell phones and other devices is down in cars and theatres, it's rising just about everywhere else - including in bathrooms.
Even if you already know how to use a soup spoon, you could probably brush up on your gadgetiquette - or know someone who could. We collected some expert advice.
Prevent cell hell
By far, the largest source of gadget faux pas is the mobile phone. People shout into their phones and often interrupt conversations to take pointless calls, says Dr. P. M. Forni, author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct (St. Martin's Press, 2002).
His advice? If you're expecting an important call, set your cell phone to vibrate (but not ring), and warn others you may be called away. When the call arrives, apologise, step out of the room to talk, then turn off the phone when you're through as a show of goodwill.
"In that way, you're assuring the other person that the rest of your conversation will go undisturbed," says Forni, in a voice so smooth you could spread it on focaccia.
Don't be all thumbs
Are your colleagues twiddling their thumbs in meetings? Odds are they're checking e-mail on their BlackBerries.
The phenomenon is an unfortunate side effect of companies demanding employees be accessible 24/7, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology. "Ten minutes into a meeting, people feel compelled to check their mail. Next thing you know ... no one is listening."
Lee suggests companies distinguish between "411" (information) meetings - informal, informational gatherings where people should feel free to read e-mail messages - and "911" (emergency) confabs where strict attention must be paid. "At important meetings, I make everyone check their weapons at the door, or at least turn off their cell phones and BlackBerries," she says. You may have to let some gadgets in because many people now use their notebooks or PDAs to take meeting notes.
Put the lid on vids
Popping a DVD into your laptop during a long flight is fine if you want to watch Bambi, but not so good when you plan to view Bambi in Bondage. You could use a plastic screen like 3M's Notebook Privacy Filter (US$30 to $100, depending on size) to shield your machine from shoulder surfers (These are handy when you're working on confidential materials, too) A better idea is simply to stick to family-friendly material when you're in public, says Colleen Rickenbacher, author of Be on Your Best Business Behavior(Brown Books, 2004).
Ask seatmates if your headphone's volume is too high, so you don't share your movies or music with everyone in the cabin. And if the traveller next to you displays something offensive on their screen, gently request that they save it for the hotel room - and ask a flight attendant to intercede if they get surly.
Ten years ago, brandishing a cell phone or a text pager in public was a badge of coolness. But these days it's just boorish, says Rickenbacher. "Now etiquette has started to become cool again."