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PDA Politeness: 14 Rules to Keep Electronic Communications Civil, Safe

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By Marshall Loeb

RISMEDIA, July 27, 2007—(MarketWatch)—The time has come for addicted users of handheld devices to bring sense and courtesy to a raucous field.

So powerful and seductive are today’s pocket phones, BlackBerrys and other handheld electronic devices that they can induce even the most thoughtful people to abandon all manners and behave like boors.

Why would an otherwise rational person interrupt a serious conversation with you in order to dive into his or her pants pocket or purse in response to a crazy bugle call or some other jingle?

Welcome to the new world of ubiquitous cell phones and other devices. Users who own them often feel that they can write their own rules — checking e-mail at the dinner table, interrupting business meetings to take a call or chattering noisily on their cell phones during morning commutes.

Here — with help from a useful new book, “SEND,” by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe — are 14 rules for solid, sensible, self-protective behavior in the electronic era:

- Don’t use a cell phone when driving in a car or other vehicle. If you think that talking while you’re on the road is harmless, think again. Your chances of getting into an accident increase five-fold when you drive while chatting on the phone. In fact, “driving while gabbing” may be more dangerous than driving under the influence, according to a 2006 study by the University of Utah.
- Don’t use a personal data assistant or cell phone when riding in a bus or sitting in a plane or a theater. You turn people near you into automatic eavesdroppers. If you absolutely have to use it, ask those around you if it bothers them. When in doubt, cut it out.
- Don’t conduct business meetings on a cell phone. That is unless you’re sure that the connection is good — which it often isn’t — and the line is secure.
- Don’t accept a call on your cell phone or PDA while you are in the middle of a face-to-face meeting. Unless the call is truly an emergency, nobody likes playing second fiddle to an electronic gadget.
- Don’t deliver bad news by “text,” the function that allows you to write to people instead of speaking to them. If you’re going to lay off a bunch of workers or announce a plant shutdown, have the courtesy to deliver the information in your own voice instead of in an unemotional note.
- Don’t neglect to produce a strong, clear subject line when you send an e-mail. If you have trouble coming up with one, it’s a good indication that something is wrong with your message.
- Don’t overlook, in your text, the proper thank-you. If someone forwards something to you, or makes an introduction, or e-mails information that you requested, make sure to thank him or her appropriately.
- Don’t send a message until you have double-checked the phone number for accuracy. You don’t want your mother reading a note intended for your beloved.
- Don’t dispatch a message you wouldn’t want to be shared with people other than the recipient. Always work on the assumption that your e-mails and texts are going to be shared with others — because they very well might be.
- Don’t use the increasingly popular “texting language” unless you are sure that every recipient understands it. For example, “LOL” means not “lots of luck,” but “laughing out loud,” and “IIRC” is “if I recall correctly.”
- Don’t be overly upset by messages that seem aggressive, even confrontational. E-mail text tends to be terser, and thus tougher, than ordinary text.
- Don’t think that writing an e-mail will get you off the hook of writing a letter, if one is called for. The value of an old fashioned letter — be it a thank-you note, an apology or condolence — easily exceeds even the most effusive or abject e-mail. You may write an e-mail first, and then follow up with a letter.
- Don’t hit send before thoroughly reviewing your message for accuracy. After you’ve sent it, it’s usually too late to rectify your mistakes.
- Don’t forget that, like a diamond, an e-mail is forever. A smoking-gun e-mail can easily be traced and can be used as evidence against you in a court of law.

It may pay to ponder some of the phrases quoted by authors Shipley and Schwalbe that have wound up in court:
- Delete this e-mail!
- Do not tell Joe!
- Can we get away with it?
- They’ll never find out.
- I have serious concerns.
- I don’t care what the hell you do.
- This might not be legal.

But nothing bad can happen to you unless and until you hit the send key.
Reporter Orli Van Mourik contributed to this article.

Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and the Columbia Journalism Review, writes for MarketWatch.

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