THE BLOG

What Are the Rules of Digital Etiquette?

06/08/2014 12:52 BST | Updated 05/10/2014 10:59 BST

The former chief executive of The AA, an incredibly successful and insightful man, once said that there was no decision that couldn't wait until the morning. He was renowned for insisting that all phones and BlackBerries were turned off in every meeting and especially in the evening if in company for dinner.

Part of me loves this philosophy (although I question whether he would have been willing to go completely offline at key moments - when the AA became a publically listed company for the first time in 105 years, say), and not just in a business context.

It is frustrating when people bump into you as they look down, completely entranced by their phones. Apart from the insularity of it, when we're entirely plugged in to our own isolated digital worlds we fail to make eye contact or authentic human connections. Isn't it just a little ironic that by fixating on Buzzfeed's '10 of the World's Most Stunning Must-See Places', we can miss out on the beauty of our immediate environment. I often feel like shouting 'Look up!' when I pass masses of downturned faces missing the beauty of say The Shard, or the spectacular summer sunsets we've been having.

But to do this would be pretty hypocritical, immersed/obsessed (delete as appropriate!) as I am in a career that is on 24/7 and defined by technology. I do think about how to maintain boundaries between technology for work and play, but in a world where our clients and our channels are 'always-on', turning fully 'off' simply isn't an option. Then, social media blurs the boundaries further still. I use Twitter as a multi-purpose corporate publishing and personal networking tool combined, posting everything from sector updates to inspirational quotes and the odd (occasionally, err lubricated) selfies with work friends at industry events. But Facebook is friends only; LinkedIn - work-only colleagues and used entirely differently, and Instagram, well a crunched but prettier version of Facebook.

So, I try, but if I am honest really have no clearly delineated boundaries. Working in media, it's fairly impossible to switch off entirely at any rate; even if subconsciously we are observing advertising and consumer behaviour wherever we go. I therefore have to choose how to use my devices and how to focus my attention. Decide when to turn phones to silent or off, work out what method of contact you want to use when on holiday or at home and set the rules. Just make sure everyone else knows them. In that spirit, here are my personal rules of digital etiquette:

  • Mobile phones in the middle of the table when at dinner with friends - the first person to reach for their mobile when it rings, pays for everyone
  • If you need to take an important call, make it clear it's the only one you're waiting for (then put it away...)
  • In meetings, explain upfront if you need to keep your phone on and why.
  • Designate official 'work' time when at home, and try not to multi-task when relaxing as a couple/family as it only causes issues about attention span and 7 year itches!
  • And fundamentally, 'just' sending an email doesn't mean the other person will necessarily receive it. If it's that vital, make the call.

In conclusion, I really do wish you all wonderful summer holidays, whether that be with or without internet access. But do try it without... Go on. Personally, I'm looking forward to some time with none whatsoever (well, just for a few days, and I'll have to leave my phone on, obvs).