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Sneaky or rude -- check your tech etiquette

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  • Remove iPod earbuds when you're talking to someone, experts say
  • Author: Anywhere it's OK to work on a crossword puzzle, you can check your PDA
  • The sooner you can reply to an e-mail properly, the better, an etiquette expert says
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Real Simple

(Real Simple) -- Learn how to be plugged in without being impolite. (This is one user manual worth reading.)

If you run into someone while you're listening to your iPod, remove both earbuds to talk to her, experts say.

If you run into someone while you're listening to your iPod, remove both earbuds to talk to her, experts say.

1. You're walking down the street and listening to your iPod when you run into someone you know. Do you need to remove both earbuds to talk to her?

Jodi R. R. Smith: If you're having more than a two-minute conversation, then, yes, both buds need to come out -- whether you turn off the device or not. And that goes for your Bluetooth earpiece, too.
Jodi R. R. Smith is the president of Manner-smith Consulting, in Boston, Massachusetts, and the author of "From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman."

Joni Blecher: Yes. People want to know that the person they're talking to is really paying attention to them.
Joni Blecher is editorial director of Her blog, Somethin' to Talk About, covers the latest technology.

Sue Fox: Remember -- etiquette is all about making the other person more comfortable. How comfortable could your friend be trying to talk to you when you've got something in your ears?
Sue Fox is the founder and president of, an etiquette consulting firm.

2. Is it rude to check your PDA at a friend's house?

Blecher: A little bit. But if you arrive at a friend's home and explain that you need to check a few e-mails before you visit so you can give her your full attention, she will probably understand.

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Smith: It depends on how you're using it. If you're checking on something relevant to your visit, then no. If you find yourself perusing other e-mails, you will send the message that you're bored.

Will Schwalbe: Think of your PDA as a crossword puzzle. Anywhere it's acceptable to work on a crossword puzzle, it's OK to check your PDA.
Will Schwalbe is a coauthor of "Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better." Real Simple: Tips for dealing with obnoxious co-workers

3. How quickly must I respond to an e-mail? Are the standards different for work e-mails versus personal e-mails?

Schwalbe: It's all about consistency. If you're going to deviate from what you usually do, use your out-of-office assistant or automatic-response setting to let people know why they might not be hearing from you as quickly as they're used to. You don't want them to think they've insulted you somehow or that you are ignoring them.

Judith Kallos: Not responding quickly -- within hours and certainly by the end of the day -- to any e-mail might make the other side feel as though she's being overlooked. It's particularly important to respond promptly to business e-mails because that is professional and courteous.
Judith Kallos oversees, a Web site dedicated to the topics of e-mail and Internet etiquette.

Anna Post: The sooner you can reply properly, the better. Never leave someone hanging.
Anna Post is the resident technology-etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute, in Burlington, Vermont.

4. If someone calls you, can you e-mail the person back or send a text message if you're not in the mood to talk? What if you text or e-mail someone and the person calls you back?

Pier M. Forni: Unless the person has requested something specific or you sense a tinge of urgency, there's nothing uncivil about replying with a "Can we talk later?" text message.
Pier M. Forni is the author of "The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude" and a professor of Italian literature at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Schwalbe: Think about what is the best way to respond. If someone called you to get directions somewhere, for instance, reply via e-mail so you can send along a map.

Blecher: If you text someone because you don't want to talk and the person calls back, don't answer. If you do answer, the other person will sense your foul mood immediately and might get offended. Just text back that you can't talk now but will call later. Your friend will thank you. Real Simple: 18 common phrases to avoid in conversation

5. Is using BCC (blind carbon copy) on an e-mail considered sneaky?

Schwalbe: Yes, and it's dangerous too, because your BCC can be exposed if the blind recipient hits Reply All or forwards the e-mail to someone else. To protect yourself from this, forward the message separately with an explanation.

Kallos: Using it to make someone look bad or e-tattle on someone is not appropriate. BCC is best used to protect your contacts' e-mail addresses from being exposed to strangers.

Smith: BCC can be sneaky but also useful. If you feel that an e-mail discussion you had could turn into a larger issue, you could BCC your boss to make her aware of the situation. Just don't inundate her with copies of every e-mail you send.

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