Many years ago, in 1997, Miss Manners published a book on etiquette in modern-day communication. In it she briefly addressed e-mail, chat rooms, and the improper art of flaming, before retreating back to her familiar territory of monogrammed notecards.
While the doyenne of correct behavior touches upon matters concerning cell phones, e-mail, and chat rooms now and then, she is hardly equipped to keep up with the constant introduction of newfangled techno-gadgetry into everyday life. Who can blame her? Take personal digital assistants. A year ago they were a luxury only the very avant-garde employed. Thanks to lower prices and extensive marketing, now even children are whipping out their Visors and beaming each other their soccer schedules.
The absence of a technologically with-it Miss Manners leaves us lost and alone when it comes to making these unprecedented objects safe for proper society. When, where, and why to beam? What information should every electronic business card include? Is it in poor taste to whip out one's Palm in the presence of the gadgetry-challenged? What about the guy at the bus stop who, upon seeing your PDA, walks up and says, "Gee, is that a PalmPilot?"
We have witnessed with those ubiquitous, annoying, Beethoven-playing cell phones what happens when technology is allowed to proliferate uninhibited by good taste. Lest this happen with PDAs, a few words of advice on Palm/Visor etiquette:
When and Where to Whip it Out, and Why?
In late April, an investment banker by the name of Seth Goldstein told The New York Times, "Doing your e-mail just because you can, whether you're in a conference room or at a dinner, doesn't mean it's appropriate. But if two people take out their Pilots and are beaming information to each other at a dinner, that's more acceptable to me because it's social."
This excellent piece of advice contains the kernel of all you need to know about the whens, wheres, and whys of using your PDA. In private situations -- riding the bus to work, waiting for your plane to arrive, sitting at the cafe, waiting in line -- it is fine to use your handheld for whatever it is you use it for. I download news onto my Palm each morning, then read it on my commute. That's fine. When waiting in a particularly long line I like to treat myself to a raucous game of Tetris (sound off, of course). Fine, good, great.
Public situations are different. It is rude and crude to check your e-mail on your nifty -- always connected! -- Palm 7 when in the presence of others. Do not laboriously Graffiti in little notes to yourself while everyone at the dinner table looks on with a displeased mix of bafflement and boredom; and please, if you are able, keep your PDA off the table. Stuff it back into your briefcase next to the muted cell phone and dirty pictures, thanks so much.
Now the situation may arise when one person requests information from another -- a business card, for example. As Seth so kindly points out, it is OK at this point to whip out the PDAs and quickly beam-beam the information. But when the beaming's done, put your gadget away, lest all more interesting conversation topics become sucked into the product-demonstration vortex.
Conspicuous Consumption is a Very Nasty Thing
When I first received my Palm VX (it was a gift, I swear), I was blown away by its capabilities. My e-mail, all my addresses, directions, movie times and locations, five different newspapers, games, memos, reminders -- they were all contained in this sleek, compact package. I wanted to show it off as often and to as many people as possible. Resist this urge. You may think that the technological reorganization of your personal data is fascinating stuff, but I can assure you it's not. And do not tell someone who may not be able to afford a $400 organizer that he or she simply must have one or risk being left far behind. This is untrue and small-minded behavior.
Beam You, Beam Me
I have already touched upon when and where to beam, but I have not yet talked about what one should beam. Beaming is an exchange of digital body fluids. With each transfer of data the opportunity for shared delight and personal tragedy exists. Do not send or receive information from an unknown source. If a trusted someone beams you a program that crashes your system, politely let him or her know, but don't launch into accusations; with such complex technology, you can never be certain where the offending system-crasher originated. Prepare in advance a business card and a blurb of personal info to have quickly on hand when someone requests your 411. Don't beam to strangers.
Countless times I have been minding my own business, engrossed in some Palm-related activity or another, when out of the blue someone walks up and knowingly asks, "Hey is that a Palm?" Yes, Virginia, it's a freakin' Palm! Any idiot can see it's a Palm. And plainly, I am engrossed in a private activity on said Palm, and just because you think my toy is neat does not give you permission to walk up to me, interrupt my train of thought, and force me to politely smile and answer your question or impolitely tell you to stick it up your ass.
But seriously, if you have an interest in these gadgets, a host of Internet forums and magazine articles can instruct you in their capabilities. Don't interrupt me because you're too lazy to check them out. I might be tempted to do something rude.