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10 Critical Rules of Smartphone Etiquette

Smartphones are everywhere. Do you take others into consideration when using yours in public? Here are 10 ways to show respect to others.

You probably spend more time today with your smartphone than any other possession. Truly, it's in contact with your body more hours in a day then even your underwear. You take it everywhere, meetings, meals, and even the bathroom. Nowhere is restricted. A smartphone is a great tool that offers freedom from the desk and a way to keep in touch, and share life events efficiently. But seriously, society has to have some boundaries.

Here is a list of 10 rules to make smartphone usage a bit more civilized for the people around you. These may seem like common sense, yet somehow I experience nearly all 10 offenses daily.

1. Prepare a Real Signature

Nobody cares anymore if your message came from an iPhone, BlackBerry, or Galaxy. It's easy to create a signature with your contact info. It will help people keep connected and keep you from looking like a Luddite.

2. You Are Not the Paparazzi (Except If You Are)

Must you really take pictures and video of everything at every moment? Sure taking pictures is fun, but sometimes, people want to enjoy real life experiences without being altered on Instagram or tagged on Facebook. Use discretion and ask permission.

3. Stop Shouting!

After 25 years, loud cellphone users are still a problem. Current coverage is fine in most places and the microphone technology has improved to where I can walk down a busy New York street with sirens blaring and still be heard on the other side. Be aware of your own voice and speak quietly, especially when around others. You won't seem like an insensitive jerk, and the person on the other phone will appreciate it too.

4. Communicate With Care

Yes, you are typing with your thumbs. You don't have to tell us. All smartphones have spell-check, grammar-check, and auto-correct. All you are saying with typos is that you're careless. Give equal consideration and care to smartphone communication as normal computer correspondence. It won't take much more time, and will improve the impression you leave with others. Make people feel they are worth your time and effort.

5. Pull Aside for a Conversation

Whether driving or walking down the street, when you are texting, emailing, gaming, or surfing, you create a hazard for everyone around you. A glance here or there is fine, but once you start a thumb-engaging conversation, pull aside so you don't block traffic or put people in danger. (Walking Blackberry users get a little leeway on this since they can actually feel their keyboard and keep their eyes forward.) Drivers, let your passenger type or use voice activation. Siri works pretty darn well and may even save lives.

6. Respect the Live People in Your Presence

Meetings and meals are social gatherings, not social media free-for-alls. Be present and aware of the people you are with physically. Just because your phone alerts you a message is waiting doesn't mean you have to interrupt a conversation to respond. The message will still be there later, and priority should be given to the person in your presence. (Unless you're looking for an excuse to leave.) Even if you have to answer, don't start a texting conversation without excusing yourself or asking if you may quickly deal with the situation. Then, show respect for people's time by actually responding quickly and returning to the live business at hand. Lastly, if you're not on the phone, remove the Bluetooth from your ear so people know you are present for them and not ready to answer a sales call at any moment.

7. Find the Off Switch

It's great to be connected, but most people need to unplug just to recharge. Gain some stillness and quiet by spending time away from electronics to engage with friends, family and yourself.  You may want the phone on a run or bike ride for emergencies but you don't have to have it on or answer it. Let your brain relax from the pressure of constant response. My wife and I set quiet time daily where smartphones are turned off, so we can be present for each other.

8. Notifications Are For You Only

Red lights, flashing screens, gangsta rap ringtones, quacking ducks, etc. are all fun and helpful, when appropriate. These lights and sounds become distracting and irritating in public places, especially in conversations and meetings. (Not to mention theaters and lectures.) Vibrating mode helps only when the phone is in your pocket. Nobody needs a hand massage from the conference table just because your spouse is calling. If you're engaged with people, put the phone away and on silent until you're prepared to answer it.

9. You Are Not a Jukebox (Nor an Arcade)

It's great that you can carry music to listen when you have a spare moment. But few are interested in your full collection of ABBA's greatest hits blasting in public. Neither do we care if you're scoring big on Angry Birds. This is why they give you earphones. Oh, and use them for your phone conversations instead of the speakerphone, please. This isn't Star Trek.

10. Respond! Respond! Respond!

The great thing about smartphones is that all your points of contact are in one place. Facebook, Twitter, IM, text, email, voice-mail and phone all come to a single location and notify you immediately allowing you to reply with a few keystrokes. So why insist on making me figure out which medium you read, or make me chase you for a response. Manage your communication to respond within 24 to 48 hours and acknowledge, even if just to say: "I'm busy unplugging and will get back to you soon."

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Last updated: Jan 11, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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