Tune In, Turn Off, Plug Out
San Francisco is a techno-hippie's far-out dream. Our natural affinity for mountain and ocean wilds, as well as those of the digital domain, allow people who don’t like other people plenty of opportunities to escape. I get out into these natural and tech worlds so often – lost in the Sierras, the Pacific Coast, or my laptop – that I’m in danger of becoming either a wolf or a robot.
But a few times a year I break routine to rediscover the social city beat. And for those occasions, I’ve developed a cheat sheet to keep my behavior appropriate. When I am trying to be a gentleman – instead of a wild combination of fur and circuits – these are the rules I try and live by.
Phone: First Dates
I once witnessed a woman tweet her entire date at five-minute intervals. No doubt, if I had been her companion, I would have tweeted at her, "I'm leaving now, see you online lol." Pay attention to your date! You are here to try to have sex, which you cannot do online yet. Your phone stays in your pocket. It may ring. It may buzz. You will want to prod it. Don’t.
If you must check your phone, there are two acceptable ways to do so and remain a gentleman or lady. (1) Excuse yourself to the restroom. Do not linger or you may convey the notion that you are pooping. (2) You may ask your date, near the end of a meal, if it is all right to briefly check your phone. Wait for the inevitable, "Of course!" and you will have earned points. Do not linger or you may convey the notion that you are pooping online.
Phone: Comfortable Dates
If you spend a lot of time with someone, I think it's fair to say that checking more often is OK on extended dates. Just because your companion glances at their phone too much doesn't mean it's OK for you to do it too, though. Keep the love alive.
Tablet: Coffee Shop
Tablets and Kindles are the future of reading, but there's something odd about using them in cafés. I can't describe what’s wrong about them except that we are nowhere near as cool looking as the people in the Apple advertisements when we pull them out in public. I can picture Paul Newman reading a newspaper in a coffee shop in some small Montana town. I can't picture him doing the same with an iPad.
Of course, you have to include public arenas in your usage scenarios – this is why you paid several hundred times the cost of a paper newspaper for the latest iPad model. My only advice is simple: Lean back, cross your legs, relax your shoulders, and hold the tablet on your knee with one hand. Look as if you are reading a newspaper rather than using a computer.
Tablet: BART or MUNI
This isn’t etiquette so much as fear mongering: Grip your tablet tight and be aware of your surroundings. Your device is the size of a magazine and can be ripped out of your hands like a magazine. But a tablet does not cost the same as a magazine. You see it as a wonder of modern technology; alternatively, to rogues it is worth a few hundred bucks, it’s easy to unload on Craigslist, and it’s pretty much a silvery, day-glow target.
Bluetooth Headset: Anywhere
The only way you can avoid looking like a jerk is to use a Bluetooth headset (a) only when driving, because it is the law, and (b) there is no "b." Alternatively, there's something cool about using the wired headset that comes with most phones. Then it doesn't look like you're talking to yourself. Also, Bluetooth uses a lot of power. If not for your reputation, think of the battery life of your headset.
Talking on the Phone When Running
Carrying a phone when running is annoying. It will bounce around a lot. Picking up a phone when running says you're not running hard enough. Hang up the phone, run faster. Plus: If you drop your phone, I'll be forced to say I told you so.
Videos at Shows
No one working security cares about people taking videos and photos at shows like they did last decade. People won't love your glowing screens blocking their view, but it isn’t a big deal to them either. Maybe one day it will seem as quaint and inoffensive as holding up a lighter at a show. But how are you going to dance and drink and throw your sweaty arms around your date when you're futzing with your phone? Focus on capturing one song. Ooh, how about that strange cover that you'll never be able to find on YouTube? Hold both hands high and steady, or lean against a pole while shooting. Cover the microphone so you can do your best to keep it from being overdriven. Tuck your handset away. Now, go dance with your date.
A quick snapshot causes no perceptible delay in social interaction. But that same snapshot, straightened, brightened, filtered to look retro, captioned, uploaded, and tweeted takes more time and should be done as quickly as possible or latergrammed.
Cellphones at Movies
Obviously, obviously, obviously: Put your phone on
vibrate. But here's a trick I like: Turn the brightness all the way
down so you can check your phone during the slow scenes, under a coat.
Or during all the scenes, if the plot lines drag.
It happens. You may have lost your phone or run out of batteries or just left it in the car. Besides not dialing internationally without asking, there's one rule: Wipe the screen on your jeans to get the face grease or makeup off before you return it.
Using a Smartphone with Friends
Easy. In a lull, just ask if everyone wants to take
a phone break.
Or just declare, "phone break!" and start clicking. Everyone else will follow suit. Just don’t do it during someone else's boring story
(which I discovered I can do subconsciously) or you'll look
like a jerk.
Person Coming Up and Talking to You While Working on Computer
Sometimes we like to work like we are jacked into the computer by fiber optics and mind control. There's nothing tougher than being in a zone and then being tapped on the shoulder by a coworker or a friend who happens to find you in a café. Whether or not you can stop what you're doing and talk is up to you. But it's not for you to decide how long your pal intends to talk.
If you can't chat, ask them to hold on for a bit while you finish your thought or sentence. Then, turn your whole body – legs, torso, head – to face the person you're talking to. When it's time to go, just say you gotta get back to it, and then get back to it. This works in reverse too. If you're feeling grumpy and want people to know it, glance up, say hi, and then keep facing your computer and nodding as they speak. Very rude. Very effective. Or ask them to get you a coffee while they're up!