Smart use of smart phones

Q. Is it okay to use a BlackBerry for social purposes in a class? Is it okay to leave your Bluetooth in when meeting with clients or at a company lunch?
J. P., Carmichael, CA

A. The etiquette for all electronic communication devices is based on one simple maxim: if its use is going to bother others, don’t use it; instead, turn it off. Inevitably, people want to push the envelope. The BlackBerry provides a twist that some people believe exempts them from the rule. They understand that not using it as a phone when in a class or a house of worship or a meeting or even in a restaurant, makes sense. But what about texting, checking email, or surfing the Internet? After all, they don’t involve your voice, and therefore these actions aren’t bothering other people, so what’s the harm? The problem is that even though they are silent, they can still distract others. For instance, in a meeting, when the user’s focus is on the device, it’s not on what’s going on at the meeting. From the presenter’s perspective, he sees people with their heads down and their thumbs flying across the miniature keyboard; it’s distracting at best. The same result occurs in a class: when other students see a person using the device, they are distracted, and the teacher may lose his/her train of thought. In a restaurant, even if it doesn’t bother the other patrons, focusing on a PDA says to the person you are with that whomever you’re interacting with on the PDA is more important—that’s not a good message to send to the person you are with face-to-face.

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Similarly, leaving in your Bluetooth device while meeting with a client is a mistake. From the client’s perspective, he/she deserves your full attention. That Bluetooth device says your attention is divided and that you are willing to interrupt your conversation with them to speak to someone who calls you. At a company lunch, you have the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues as well as managers. Keeping the device in your ear says that your focus is elsewhere and that your lunch companions aren’t as important to you.

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