Mobile Computing: High-Tech Etiquette, Part 1
I'm a Southerner who now lives near Silicon Valley in California. And so I'm particularly attuned to the need to show consideration for others (that's my Southern upbringing at work) while using portable electronics in public (my high-tech predilection).
Recently, I wrote about "ear spray"--the tinny sound that leaks out of headphones--and offered some ideas on using gadgets in public but being considerate of others in the process. I suggested that, out of consideration for fellow laptop-using airline passengers, you should look behind you before reclining your chair. If the person behind you is working on a laptop, I said you should give them a heads-up that you're going to recline your chair.
So far, so good. But another suggestion I made aroused strong rebuttals: If you're working on a laptop on a plane, and the person in front of you reclines so far that it's hard or impossible for you to work comfortably, ask that person nicely if they would move their seat up "a little." What follows are a few of the responses I received on this issue--plus some food for thought from Miss Manners.
Next week, I'll share some interesting e-mails I received about other gadget etiquette issues.
Raise My Seat? I Think Not
"You have to be kidding about asking someone to move their reclined seat up," writes Scott Herbert of Dallas, a frequent business traveler. "The space [on an airplane] is so tight that the seats barely recline, but at least they offer some extra comfort. I pay for my seat and should be able to recline. That is technically my space."
Scott adds that "there was a time before computers when business travelers either used a pen and paper, or better yet, rested on a flight. I feel sorry for any poor sap who feels the need to work at that time and would laugh at anyone that would have the audacity to think their need to maximize their time should infringe on my comfort. Your piece was about respecting the people around you when using electronics, yet your advice is to inconvenience others so that you can use a computer? Give me a break."
The Right to Kick Back
"Frequent flyers are already subjected to a wide range of inconveniences and indignities," writes Mable Duke of Richmond, Kentucky. "They are packed into Lilliputian quarters, which exacerbate loud talkers, nosey seat mates, strong odors, and so on. The thought of any further encroachment is more than I can bear. If I've purchased a seat on an airplane, I have a right to that space, including the right to recline in it. As a courtesy, I would agree to look and give warning to the guy behind me who is using his laptop. But that's it. Just because he's still working on his deal about to go down in Houston doesn't mean I don't have the right to kick back and shut my eyes on the one I just closed in Miami. And if it's the other way around, I sure as hell don't have the right to tell the guy to sit up straight so I can finish my last-minute notes."
Nothing More Annoying
"Don't you think that the sound of the person pounding away with the annoying click, click of the keyboard behind your head is ear spray?" asks T.J. Lee of San Francisco. "I do. There is nothing more annoying than having some middle-management type, who should have finished his work prior to getting into a small area with several dozen other people, who then spreads out documents, makes phone calls right behind your head, and pounds away on his laptop."
What Would Miss Manners Say?
Ultimately, the question is this: Do you have the right to ask the person sitting in front of you to slightly adjust their seat in order to enhance your own comfort? Or, put another way: Is such a request rude?
Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated Miss Manners column, has weighed in on this conflict. Here's what she writes in her October 6, 2004 column:
At first blush, it may seem that Miss Manners skirted the issue by pointing a finger at the airlines. But to me, her guidance in this matter is clearly expressed in this sentence: "The polite person tries to negotiate a compromise that will provide some comfort for all, including himself, under difficult circumstances."
And so I'll leave you with a question. If flying in a crowded coach cabin while trying to get some work done on a laptop doesn't qualify as "difficult circumstances," what does?