DEAR MISS MANNERS: I enjoy the convenience of being able to access the Internet from my home. Lately, however, it seems that whenever I log on to look up a piece of information or dash off a quick note, friends or relatives who have placed me on their “buddy list” are alerted to my presence online and initiate instant-messaging conversations.
I find this unsettling, much as I would if these same friends or relatives received an alert when I picked up a book, turned on the television or pursued any other activity. If I ignore their instant messages, they will know I am online and choosing not to respond.
Is there any polite way to prevent these interruptions? Otherwise, how quickly may I end these conversations without being rude? These are people I would be happy to hear from by telephone or regular e-mail, so I don’t wish to offend them.
GENTLE READER: It took a long time for the computer industry to realize that people who were wonders at inventing new gadgets were not necessarily equally adept at fielding customer calls or writing instruction manuals.
Miss Manners has noticed that the industry has yet to make the same realization with regard to electronic manners.
The “status update” that you refer to is an engineer’s solution to a manners problem — and not a good one. One imagines that homeowners who did not wish to receive callers faced a similar dilemma with the invention of the electric light, since throwing the switch alerted everyone on the block that they were home.
Some online systems now allow you to limit such broadcasting of your activities. But for ones that offer no such privacy, politeness does not require that you answer every call simply because you can.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is your opinion of people who answer their cellphones when engaged in a conversation?
I understand there may be exceptions for emergencies, but otherwise it comes across to me as rude and makes me feel like second-best. It also breaks our connection — especially when they can’t remember what we were talking about when they end their cellphone talk.
I find it especially annoying when out on a date. Do you think I’m overreacting? What can I say so the other person might be understanding and cooperative rather than feeling put off?
GENTLE READER: Your goal is not to make your date be understanding, but to make her or him unterstand: Taking non-emergency calls while in company is rude.
Expressing interest in the call only condones the behavior, and even risks a rebuke for eavesdropping. And we know that correcting rudeness in others is itself rude.
Miss Manners instead recommends that you excuse yourself and leave the table, returning only after the call is complete. The timing is important — and also challenging, as your destination is the bathroom, not the bar. Upon your return, apologize for taking so long, but say that since he or she was on a call, you are sure you will be forgiven.