07. June 2012 · Comments Off on How Not to Be a Laptop Cretin · Categories: Etiquette, Gentlemanly Pursuits

We spend a lot of our time connected to the digital world. Our phones are as powerful as our desktops used to be. Stylish tablets allow for full-color browsing and light computing in the size of an actual notebook. Ultrabooks and netbooks offer near full-sized computing power in very small packages.

But for Steve Jobs’ sake, put them away every once in a while. Or at least take some basic steps to stay aware of the outside world.

We get it – you’re a busy, busy person. You are obviously in the middle of a very important project or creative moment. And, hey, this new portable technology allows you to carry on that activity outside of the confines of your boring office. Why work on that thesis paper, play script, photo essay, or Powerpoint deck enclosed by four dull walls, when you can enjoy the ambiance of your local cafe?

We’re with you here. It’s nice to get away from the daily grind and find yourself a more interesting space to work in every once in a while. But consider some of the following guidelines, so you don’t come off looking like an oaf in the process.

First, be sensitive of the time and place. Lunch rush at the local coffee shop, sandwich place, or cafe is not the time to hog a table for work. There used to be a chain cafe near one of my old offices, where people with laptops would spread out over a four-top and camp on it throughout lunchtime. Meanwhile, people are circling the place with trays desperately trying to find a seat. Don’t be this person. Everyone hates you, wishes you grievous harm, and hopes your computer catches fire. At busy meal times, take a break. Pack up your stuff, and go somewhere else. Be courteous to others who may have a limited time themselves to eat and get back to the office.

Second, while you might have your computer with you, the cafe is not your office. The best kind of work to do out in public is solitary, quiet work. No one, believe me, wants to have to overhear your 20-minute cellphone conversation about the marketing slides you’re editing. Stop it. You’re intruding on other patrons’ quiet time. You’re ruining it for everyone else. From personal experience, it’s easier to tune out two people having a business conversation at a moderate volume level than it is to ignore one half of a phone conversation that’s just as loud. Your brain wants to keep filling in the other side in the silences. For everyone’s sake, don’t take or run conference calls in public, and never ever use speakerphone.

Third, be aware of your peripherals and cables. The general public is not expecting there to be power cords strung around common spaces, across aisles, and between tables. Recognize that they are trip hazards. This goes for cafes, hotel lobbies, airport gate areas, and so forth. Always avoid running power cords and other cables across or near walkways. Someone could get hurt, and your expensive hardware could end up with a jack or connector ripped out of it. If you have to plug in, do it in a way that you and your cables are not likely to be in the path of foot traffic.

Finally, there are places that laptops are just completely unacceptable. The transgressions on this front usually come from the creative class flashing brushed-aluminum kit with fruit on the lid. However, there are simply times when you just must put the Macbook away. Whenever you are seated at counter seating, for instance – don’t hog space at the counter with your gear and make the servers work around you. If you’re at a restaurant with table service, ditch the computer – it’s impolite to other diners and the waitstaff. And for god’s sake, never open up a laptop and plop it down on a bar. If there’s a more inappropriate place for a computer, I can’t think of one. Bars are social places, and attaching yourself to a screen is just uncouth. Besides, you’re one spilled drink away from a very expensive paperweight.

Mobility is fantastic. Just use your new powers wisely, and people will see you for the smart, savvy individual you are, rather than a self-centered boor.

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