More often than not a mobile executive would agree the BlackBerry is both a blessing and a curse: while it can liberate you from the office by allowing you to keep in touch via e-mail or voice, virtually anywhere, it can ironically have the opposite effect by tethering to the office well past 5 p.m. (and on weekends and holidays, too).

It could be argued it’s too late to go back to the pre-24/7 work culture. So perhaps we need to find a way to best integrate our smartphones into our daily lives -- without keeping our face buried in it when in public.

So we thought it would be fun to chat with tech experts about what is socially acceptable when it comes to e-mail and messaging on smartphones. Interestingly, we found conflicting opinions.

E-mail etiquette

When is it appropriate to pull out a BlackBerry, iPhone, or other smartphone and start tapping away as if you were alone?

“Five years ago there weren’t too many of these e-mail devices, so someone might have been disturbed about you picking up e-mail, say, during a lunch meeting -- but not today when these things are commonplace,” says Brian Kotlyar, an analyst for the Boston, Mass.-based Yankee Group. “Today we may notice, but we don’t mind much, and in five years we might not even notice at all.”

Michelle Warren, however, disagrees. The senior analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, a London, Ontario-based research firm, believes “it is rude to disrupt a face-to-face meeting to check for messages.” “This activity gives the impression that the person in front of you is insignificant, which is not a career-enhancing tactic.”

Phone etiquette

If shutting down the phone for the meeting is out of the question, she adds, then set it to “quiet” and proceed with your meeting. “Once you are finished, then check for messages and missed calls,” says Warren.

Kotlyar agrees employees of small or mid-sized businesses must remember they’re in a professional setting. “Your phone needs to be on vibrate or at least be conscious of the fact your loud ‘50 Cent’ ringtone might not be appropriate,” says Kotlyar, with a laugh. “Ringtones give off a persona, so be aware of where you are and what’s ideal for that setting.”

Warren acknowledges there are often exceptions, such as times when you need to answer the phone. The trick is to handle yourself professionally. “If you are waiting for an important call, mention it at the forefront of the meeting.” “When the phone vibrates -- as the ringer will be shut off -- exit the room, quietly, and take the call outside,” suggests Warren.

“Don’t answer more than one call -- if you are urgently needed elsewhere, politely excuse yourself from the meeting,” adds Warren, who also shares this last piece of advice: “Don’t wear your earpiece while in a meeting -- lunch or otherwise. Ever.”

Super software, too

Kotlyar suggests executives should subscribe to SpinVox, a handy mobile phone service that transcribes voicemail messages into text messages for you. Therefore, when someone important calls and you can't answer, perhaps because you’re in a meeting, you'll know right away what the call is about. An accurate transcript of the voicemail message is sent to your mobile phone automatically so you can simply read the message, no matter where you are.

With SpinVox, you can discretely glance at a text message which has the content of the voicemail message on your phone. If you need to jump into action -- you can forward the text message on.

SpinVox also includes the number of the caller, so as long as it was sent from a mobile phone you can press a button to text a note back immediately. Another scenario might be a noisy restaurant, where it's easier to read a message rather than listen to one.