Yes, It’s Rude to Use Your Laptop During Meetings—and More Tech Etiquette Rules You Might Be Breaking

Is it rude to type away on a laptop during a group meeting? (Image: Pixabay)
Is it rude to type away on a laptop during a group meeting? (Image: Pixabay)

Summary

  • Our communication is increasingly mediated through our devices. Here, some ways to use them without making a rude fool of yourself.

Polite society can agree on certain unwritten rules when it comes to our digital devices. If someone is talking to you, remove at least one AirPod. (Yes, even with “Conversation Awareness" active.) If you get invited to someone’s wedding, don’t post a group selfie where the bride is sneezing, no matter how great you look in your Anthropologie shift. And if you’re riding a bus or train, don’t watch any TikToks or Instagram Reels at full volume.

As new software and products emerge, so do new frontiers of decorum, says Maggie Oldham, an Indianapolis-based etiquette expert. When she started coaching in 2013, the iPhone 5S had just debuted and one its most popular apps was Vine. Though things have evolved, we still need emotional skills to avoid faux pas with colleagues and friends. “Show consideration for other people…Best practices don’t necessarily catch on right away," she said. Some common etiquette quandaries:

1. Does sneakily snapping pictures of people’s excellent outfits or adorable pets in public make you a creep?

People are more understanding about (or at least less surprised by) this in 2024, but it doesn’t mean they are comfortable, says University of Virginia assistant professor of business administration Roshni Raveendhran. “It’s only appropriate if you ask for consent," said Oldham. If you have a folder of “Cool Sneakers" photos in your camera roll, hang your head.

Though some folks might be flattered, others might question your motives or take offense. Oldman said strangers may think: “Are they stalking me? Are they going to make fun of me on the internet? Are they trying to kidnap my dog?" And if we’re being honest, when, if ever, are you going to study that blurry photo of an IKEA-bagged shiba inu on the subway?

Documenting yourself in public carries fewer taboos, said Shelia Cotten, a professor of sociology and communication at Clemson University in South Carolina. But try not to take up too much space or catch too many people in the background. (No more tripods at the gym!)

2. Can you exclude Android users from a group chat?

A fair question. If an Android owner uses the “reaction" feature (by pressing down on a message then selecting an emoji from the pop-up menu), it won’t work as intended. Instead, iPhone users on the chat receive a message that parrots the entire original text, plus the reaction. (“Sam loved ‘On my way!’") It’s irritating for everyone.

But don’t bully your Android friends out of the group chat; they can’t change how iMessage handles SMS texts. If it’s an issue, get everyone to send emojis as separate messages, rather than use the reaction feature, says Oldham. If other group chatters aren’t taking the hint, screenshot the problematic effect on your iPhone and privately share it with them. Of course, you could corral the group into downloading a third-party messaging software like WhatsApp, Messenger or GroupMe, Oldham says. Signal and Discord would also do the trick.

3. Is it rude to type away on a laptop during a group meeting?

We’re back in the office, so Zoom’s mute option can’t quiet your typing. The clamor pierces through meetings—painting the typer as disinterested or rude.

Cotten confessed that “if I’m not leading a meeting, I’ll sometimes check my email or calendar," typing on her computer even if the sound messes up others’ focus.

In some cases, co-workers might not mind, says Raveendhran. She has an 8-month-old daughter and 3-year-old son whose care often requires her attention. Postpandemic, she said, she’s noticed more “acknowledgment of people having a life outside of work" at her office. People might see you typing and assume you’re dealing with important family matters.

Don’t abuse the charity. There’s a difference between checking in on a child at home and texting laughing-crying emojis in response to your friend’s meme. If you must type, glance up from your screen and nod occasionally. “Show engagement and active listening," Oldham said.

4. How soon after entering someone’s home can you ask for the Wi-Fi password?

Context matters. If you’re staying the weekend with the in-laws, inquiring about the Wi-Fi early on is probably acceptable. But if you’re attending a new friend’s dinner party, it might suggest you’re hoping to watch video compilations of “The Voice" auditions in the bathroom. “You need a good reason for asking for it," said Oldham.

Make sure you know your audience. When adult children or grandchildren drop by, but stay glued to their phones, older family members might find it stressful, says Cotten. Asking them for the Wi-Fi could make them think this is the plan.

And those on the receiving end of the request might be anxious about their digital security. (Note: You can always set up a guest network with its own password, to make sure visitors don’t end up sharing your actual password with others. Raveendhran’s tech-savvy husband set one up in their Charlottesville, Va., home.)

5. Is it rude to scroll when you’re FaceTiming?

Doing so is rarely as discreet as you think and makes you look rudely inattentive. “Tech [allows] people to multitask—for better or worse," said Raveendhran. Most of us aren’t that capable of focusing on a conversation if we’re also online shopping. “We think we’re good at multitasking, but [we end up] missing cues," said Cotten.

Especially in one-on-one FaceTime conversations, Raveendhran says scrolling is a definite faux pas. It leaves you open to the horrifying scenario that you’ll respond “That’s great!" when your friend just said her day was “Just OK. Actually I wanted to curl up in the fetal position underneath my desk."

One exception: When you’re FaceTiming with a close confidant, scrolling while chatting might be allowed. “If you’re chatting with your mom, comfortable and just shooting the breeze, it’s OK," said Oldham. But if you’re not that close to your fellow FaceTimer, it must be avoided, she added. “Others can see your eyes darting."

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