An Etiquette Expert Tells Us What You Do Wrong With Your Tech - And How To Fix It

You’re at a party and everybody's having a good time… except for you, because you're scrolling through Instagram alone in a corner, like some kind of weirdo who stands alone in corners.

But actually, what are the rules of tech etiquette anyway? We interact with our gadgets now more than ever, to the point that some people experience legitimate withdrawal when they're away from their smartphones for too long. So how do we know when to draw the line?   

To shed some light on our query, I spoke with Mr. Daniel Post Senning, an expert at the Emily Post Institute, the authority on social etiquette for the past hundred years. Mobile manners are a very real concern these days, but thankfully, Daniel gave some valuable advice on how you can avoid being that guy.

DON’T keep your notifications on all the time

Before going to a social function, it's a good idea to turn off your phone's notifications. Do you really need to to be on high alert for your retweet count while you're out and about? No. If you're at a wedding, be at a wedding -- not on your phone.
“What’s really important is that you don't distract others from the purpose of the event,” said Daniel. “Make an effort to coordinate your intent with the intent of the people you’re with and what their goal is, what they’re trying to accomplish.” No one else at that wedding is there to help you achieve Twitter fame (hopefully), so set your phone to silent and your wearable to watch mode -- and leave them that way. “The Golden Rule,” Daniel said, “is silence.”

DON’T constantly talk about your gadgets

Realistically, the only time it's appropriate for every conversation to revolve around your device is at a tech conference or the store where you're buying it. Other than that, don't be the guy that won't shut up about their cool new toy. After all, you should hope that people see YOU, and not just your gadgets. Daniel has a simple mantra for wearable devices, but the lesson can be applied to any form of technology: “Wear the watch -- don’t let the watch wear you.” 

DON’T use your devices at the dinner table

Pretty much everyone can agree that the dinner table is a tech-free zone. As Daniel put it, “there is no place setting for your phone.” When dinner starts, stow your phone in the only place it belongs at the table -- in your pocket, and keep it there. And don't try to convince yourself you need those new placemats on your next IKEA run.

DON’T make strangers listen to your tech noises

So when you have a "captive audience," it means the people around you have no other option but to be there. Some examples: on public transportation, at work, or in an elevator. Sure, the chances of ever seeing these people again may be slim, but it's important to be courteous in these everyday situations.

That means turning down the volume on your ghastly Beethoven ringtone and saving the "He did what?!" conversation for your lunch break. “You don’t want to subject them to all of your calls, rings, and alerts,” Daniel said. “Especially if your behavior is habitualized, this can make everyone around you hate you.” 

DON’T Google everything

Yes, it's still mind-blowing that the answer to every random trivia question is constantly at your fingertips. But that doesn’t mean you should jump to the search bar if someone can't remember the name of the guy who directed Point Break.

“Rather than whipping out your phone at every single unconfirmed factoid, use it as a way to start a discussion with your group,” Daniel said. “Be ruthlessly honest with yourself about the degree to which you're using technology as a crutch when really you should be giving your attention to the people around you.”

DON’T let yourself get addicted to your phone

Remember that famous experiment with the dog, the bell, and the drool? Ever wonder why one of the most common text alert sounds is a little ring? That’s right: your tech works the same way. Your brain gets a hit of dopamine every time you receive a notification -- which really sets you up for bad tech etiquette, whether you mean it or not. “We’re all little Pavlov’s dogs,” Daniel explained. “Your body is built to repeat habitual actions, and unless you do intentional work to deprogram yourself from your phone, you’re going to do it out of habit -- at the worst possible social time.”

Luckily, you can deprogram yourself. The first step is realizing that what you're doing is rude, then training yourself to ignore the cues that trigger a reward. So, set your phone to silent to cut off that bell, focus on what's going on around you, and try not to think about what you might be missing on your phone.  

Remember, good manners will never be out of date

Now that you know what you're doing wrong, don’t worry about adjusting the rules to the disrupting waves of new tech that will inevitably come. They won't change how you should conduct yourself.

“In the future, what will matter is how we apply the classic examples of behavior to the new technology we have,” Daniel said. “Technology is not the problem. Never has been, never will be. It’s all about us and our relationships with each other and how we use our devices to facilitate -- or disrupt -- those relationships. Everything should -- and will -- always be rooted in the principles of consideration, respect, and honesty. As long as those are your core principles, you can’t go wrong.”

Brett Williams is an editorial assistant at Supercompressor. He promises his mother that he knew not to have his phone out at the table BEFORE talking to Daniel.

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