Ms. Manners: Blogging from the Dinner Table

This weekend everyone's favorite style mavens at the New York Times weighed in on the propriety of smartphone interuptions during business meetings. As in "is it ok to check email on my iPhone during a potential pitch from a potential contractor?"

To which I say, "SERIOUSLY?!?!" I mean how is there any debate here. Of course it's rude. Of course it's inappropriate. If you're important enough, you can get away with it. But better hope you don't need to leave anybody with the impression you care about them, their work, their time, etc. 

The more interesting question to me, is the extent to which the same smartphone usage is acceptable in a social as opposed to a professional setting. If we go to brunch on Sunday are we all free to check crackberries mid-mimosa? Are the rules different if we're all lawyers?

So to readers out there: Do you have smartphone boundaries? Are they self-imposed or externally created?



Here are my boundaries:
1.  I never check the crackberry at church.
2.  I never check it at dinner with my kids unless I have actually snuck out of the office too soon to be at home eating with them and am awaiting important emails—not all that often.  In those cases, I let the family know that I am "working" even though I am at home and sitting at the dinner table.
3.  I often check it while doing other family outings such as Disneyland, the beach, shopping, etc.  This goes for weekends and weekdays.  However, I only answer emails or return phone calls if they are important—this happens, sadly, pretty often.
4.  If I am out with friends, I pretty much check it and I think it is socially acceptable to do so.  If I am at lunch in the middle of the workday, I check every email that comes in I will also frequently answer the emails that request a response from me.  However, I do not always answer because I can’t figure out how to make it non-obvious that I am sending an email from the blackberry and don’t always want people knowing that I’m not in the office.  If I am out in the evening with family or friends, I will check it periodically but not on a set scheduled—usually when it seems like too much time has passed since the last "check" and when there is a natural lull in the conversation.  The result of this is that usually everyone (if the group is all lawyers) ends up checking them at the same time and some people then step away to make phone calls or answer emails.  If I am out with lawyer friends I do not feel guilty about the crackberry at all.  If I am out with non-lawyer friends I feel a little guilty about it and usually end up apologizing for interruptions.
5.  If I am at a business development/networking event I go prepared to not answer emails and calls. I set my out of office "assistant" on outlook to give people a head’s up that I am away from email and then only check email when it is okay.  In other words, I am not walking around a cocktail hour with the crackberry in my hands and only check it while standing in line for a drink or in the restroom or when standing with only my colleagues from work.  If there is something that I need to answer, I step outside of the crowd to answer the email or call in order to avoid having people think that I am too caught up in work to enjoy the event.  This often means stepping out of the room, onto a patio, or outside the building.
6.  If I am at a board of directors meeting or other business meeting, I only check it when I can be discreet about it.  Again, I put on the out of office assistant and check the crackberry during meeting breaks or under the table when I am not part of a conversation and have no chance of being dragged in.
The truth is that I think that my adult family members are annoyed by the crackberry.  I think that they think that I work too much and think that I am attached to the thing.  Then again, I think that they also understand, they just don’t like it.  I think that friends don’t think anything of it.  I don’t think that either group feels like I don’t care about them just because I have to check the crackberry for work emails.
I’ve never gotten the impression that somebody who has to check their email doesn’t care about others, their work or their time.  I guess that I am assuming that they aren’t checking text messages from their golfing buddy or boyfriend/girlfriend in a business meeting and that they actually have something important that they need to attend to.  I just assume that they are busy and important and that they, like me, would rather not have to be tied to the crackberry but are so tied, for reasons outside their control.  Maybe these types of assumptions provide cover for the person who is actually sending text messages to his personal shopper during a meeting but so long as most of us aren’t doing that, it seems to me that we can all be flexible and accomodating and not take it personally.


but not on a date and not at work if I’m in a meeting, etc.


More from the ethicist on this topic in light of social texting leading to the current legislative meltdown in New York

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