Does this ever happen to you?

I’m at my desk, working on an upcoming article, when a riiing, riiing, riiing goes off on my right. My antique telephone ringtone, which I should be accustomed to after two years, still always shocks me. Thanks to Facebook, email, IM and text, people rarely ever just dial me up anymore, so when this sudden outburst of sound shakes the air, it startles me. On the display, my friend’s face smiles back at me from her profile picture/caller ID.

“Hi! Are you busy?”
“Uh, yeah, actually. I’m in the middle of writing. What’s up?” “Oh, nothing. Just wanted to know if you’re busy next Friday. My favorite band’s playing downtown.”

Seriously? I can’t help but feel a little annoyed at this workday interruption. This wasn’t exactly urgent business, and now I sit here, oddly feeling violated.

“Um, I don’t know. I’ll have to check my calendar. Can I let you know later? I’m in the middle of a thought, and I don’t want to lose my place.”
“Yeah sure. No problem. Talk to you lat—” Click.

Okay, now where was I? It had something to do with 3D and… and… gah!

via Radvision

As the day wears on, I feel increasingly guilty at being so rude to her. She’s a good friend, and she hasn’t gotten the hang of texting yet. I even find this kind of charming sometimes (though not today).

It’s strange to think that, at one time, all instant communication took place over telephones. Now any sudden cell phone ring or vibration can feel like an intruder. What’s worse, at least for me, is that I’m an iOS user among many in my group of friends. This means I also suffer the random, surprise FaceTime calls. (Oh, c’mon, guys. Can’t you let me know ahead of time? Because really, there is no reason on Earth why anyone needs to see my pajamas and bedhead. Ever.)

Now, with tablets and netbooks also having joined our tech arsenal, along with desktops, laptops and internet-enabled TV products, uninvited contact can feel like an assault.

This is why most of my pals, and my coworkers for that matter, all tend to schedule time in advance for calls or long chats. The evolution of this unspoken rule was organic — no one ever laid down the law on this — but it has become so ingrained in the way we handle technology that any deviation from it can be… well… disruptive.

Maybe you, dear reader, are too wise and tech savvy to commit any of these offenses (right?), but I bet you know someone who could use a fast lesson in modern communications etiquette. If so, then please feel free to forward this article around. (And if you’ve got your own to add to the list, please post them in the comments section below).

The Rules of Engagement: The New Social Etiquette
(i.e., How to stop annoying your friends, family and colleagues)


(1) Wield the power of the keyboard/keypad. We have so many ways of communicating these days — email, Facebook, text, Skype, GTalk, Twitter, etc. — that if a message is not urgent, it’s more polite to message them than call them. It allows a contact to respond at their leisure, giving the impression that you respect their time and consideration. (Also know that, if you normally text or email, a sudden phone call from you might make them think an emergency has taken place, so act accordingly.)

from ABC’s Desperate Housewives

(2) Make a phone call/vid chat date. If you miss someone and want to hear their voice or see their face, schedule a call in advance. It might seem weird at first, but believe me — designating a time when you can both give each other your undivided attention will only make for a better conversation. So to make sure you don’t interrupt their work (or other activities), schedule it ahead of time.

(3) Skype — use it for good, not evil. See rule #2 up there? It also applies to Skype. It’s actually far easier here. If you see someone show up as “online,” don’t rush to Skype-call them. A lot of people use this service for telecommuting purposes, so be polite and send a message first, asking if it’s okay to call. (Likewise, don’t forget to change your own status, if you are working or otherwise unavailable to chat.)

(4) When IM’ing during the day, always ask if it’s a bad time before launching into your littany. Companies are emphasizing modern marketing efforts like social networking quite a bit these days. And like Skype, the cost effectiveness of IM has a lot of businesses using that for work purposes. That means you could see friends logged in, even if they’re still on the clock, so don’t just randomly hit them up without knowing if it’s okay. That dirty joke you’re sending could pop up while the boss is standing right in front of your friend’s monitor.

Now all of these deal with one-on-one contact, but there’s another type of communication that’s just as important — social media. I’m talking about Facebook, people. That alone could spawn an entire book, but there’s one thing in particular that I’m compelled to call out:

(5) Facebook fail: Stop tagging people in embarrassing photos. You know that image of your colleague, passed out and drunk at the office party? Or the beautiful photo of your sister, with her blouse button unknowingly undone? Do not tag them. I mean it. Without saying a word, you are communicating some pretty negative things about your friend to everyone that you (and they) know. It’s more than just embarrassing — potential employers, clients or colleagues of theirs could (and probably will) see these. So don’t go there.

If you fell victim to this yourself, just know that Facebook lets you untag pics, so it’s a good idea to look through them periodically and untag whatever you think is inappropriate. Then you can call up the “friend” and ask what the heck they were thinking. (Yes, I said call. I count something like this as an emergency.)

The rules above all have to do with respect, which is the very basis of etiquette — having consideration for someone’s time, attention or even reputation. While modern technology has enabled a huge wealth of tools that allow us to connect with each other in ways people could not have foreseen just one generation ago, it also means there are many “clueless” people around and a lot more potential for epic fails.

This list of essentials may seem face-palmingly obvious to some, but there are definitely others who need to commit these to memory. So if you have a few pals who could benefit from these tips, please share at will.

Do you have any other rules for communication or social networking that belong on this list? Or maybe even a pet peeve in the decorum category? Be sure to weigh in below.