"I just got the funniest video of a kitten stuck in a fishbowl! Should I send it along to my friends?"
The experts say: Probably not. Many people regard the forwarding of photos, videos, jokes, inspirational quotations, chain letters and the like to be irritating rather than entertaining, despite their ubiquity, says Louise Fox, an etiquette expert and owner of The Etiquette Ladies Canada. She advises using discretion, and only occasionally forwarding such an e-mail to someone you're certain would like to see it.
"I have been fighting with my sister-in-law. Should I tell her how I'm feeling in an e-mail?"
The experts say: Cool off first, write later. Sending an e-mail while in the throes of intense emotion could do more harm than good, especially if it's in response to what someone else has written. "With the absence of vocal and facial cues, you may have misinterpreted what the sender was trying to say," warns Fox. "If you respond when you are upset or angry, chances are you will say something you will later regret." She adds that your best course of action is to pick up the phone and talk.
"I'm going to be visiting friends tonight and might want to check my e-mail while at their house. Is that OK?"
The experts say: It depends. Fox believes that, generally, it's rude to request use of your hosts' computer to check your e-mail. But if you're expecting an important message, you can ask if they wouldn't mind. If you're spending an extended time as a guest, such as a vacation at a cottage, ask in advance. And, if you decide to bring along your own computer, always be respectful – you should be engaged with your hosts, not your laptop. "Remember that technology is meant to make our lives easier. We should control it. It shouldn't control us," says Fox. "If you're such a busy person that you just can't live without your computer for a few days, perhaps you should stay home."
"I don't always check spelling or grammar when I send an e-mail. Is that OK?"
The experts say: No. "Spelling and grammar still mean polish," says Nancy Altilia, principal with Mercer Ltd., a consulting firm. "Use spell checker." Fox agrees, and says that how you write is as important as what you write. "Grammar and spelling mistakes tell others you're careless, impatient or just uneducated."
"Is it OK to use emoticons, such as smiley faces, in work-related e-mails?"
The experts say: Being overly casual in business correspondence is a no-no. Using slang, emoticons or addressing colleagues by nicknames should be avoided. "In a business setting, it is always more prudent to write in a businesslike tone," says Fox. Altilia agrees: "There are more than a few people who really dislike that smiley face or who can't decipher ‘TTYL' [talk to you later]. Know your audience. Keep it clean and crisp." If your boss uses them with you, it may be permissible; otherwise, better safe than sorry.
"My colleague e-mailed me a risqué video. Should I pass it on, too?"
The experts say: Absolutely not, especially if the content reflects poorly on you or your employer. "Any firm with corporate e-mail and any technology infrastructure has the ability to track e-mail traffic," warns Altilia. "Employees visiting inappropriate sites or sending inappropriate content are easy to find." Depending on company policy, you could be disciplined or fired.
Page 1 of 3Cellphone and PDA protocol
"Is it OK to check messages, or make or take a call if I'm in someone's company?"
The experts say: "Don't stroke your phone more than your date," says Michael Hoechsmann, an associate professor of media and technology in education at McGill University in Montreal. He explains that being on your cellphone or clicking away on your BlackBerry tells whomever you're with that he or she is less important and less interesting than whomever you're communicating with electronically. Turn your device off.
"Is it OK to answer my phone or send a text message when I'm in a public restroom?"
The experts say: It's tacky. Be aware of privacy concerns – for you, the person you are calling and others around you. Let your voice mail handle incoming messages when you're in inappropriate locations (for example, a washroom or a doctor's waiting room). "The visual image of someone with his pants around his ankles while he speaks with you on his cellphone about your upcoming date is not a pleasant picture," says Fox.
"What should I do if I'm on my phone in public and the call starts to get heated or personal?"
The experts say: Go somewhere more secluded, and keep your voice down. Strangers don't need to hear about your new rash or how much you hate your ex. Hoechsmann cautions against what he calls the "public autobiography," in which you broadcast your business to the masses via your cellphone conversations. He and Fox also agree that being considerate of those around you is vital – speak quietly, or move to a private area.
"I'm expecting important news from a colleague. Is it OK to leave my device on?"
The experts say: It's usually fine, given that it's a professional environment, and phone calls and text messages are part of doing business. The key is being considerate of your colleagues. "Loud conversations heard over the cubicle walls can be disruptive," says Altilia. As for personal calls, Fox feels they should be kept to a minimum at the office, and adds, "Take and make calls in private, where it does not interfere with others or interrupt their work."
"What should I do if my personal device rings while I'm in a meeting?"
The experts say: If you haven't turned it off (which is preferred), excuse yourself before answering. "Nothing screams ‘I don't care!' more than furious texting while someone is trying to speak in a meeting," Altilia says. "If you can't put your device down, let the meeting host know that you need to stay connected."
"Is it OK if I have my favourite song as my ringtone?"
The experts say: Obnoxious ringtones can be, well, obnoxious. "Your indie-music ringtone might be cool the first time your cellphone rings," says Altilia, "but maybe not the 10th time." Select tones or music carefully, and put your device on vibrate to avoid disrupting your coworkers if you are expecting a call at the office.
Page 2 of 3Social networking know-how
"I have some embarrassing photos of me on my Facebook page. Should I take them down?"
The experts say: Definitely consider it. "This is the place where you can do things that are a little bit more outrageous than with e-mail or cellphones," says Hoechsmann. "With the proviso that you don't do something you would regret later." Consider who might see the photos – your spouse, your children, your friends, your colleagues, your boss. "Make sure whatever you post reflects you in a positive light," says Fox. Or be prepared for the fallout.
"Someone I don't know well has requested my friendship online. Should I accept?"
The experts say: Always be cautious when allowing people access to your profile pages on sites such as Facebook and MySpace, which might include personal information or photographs, as well as a look at your life and friends. "Rejecting friend requests is probably one of the more complicated and thorny issues in the social-networking domain," says Hoechsmann. "One is left to one's best judgment in that area." Essentially, if it's someone about whom you feel uncomfortable in any way, and you wouldn't want this person knowing about you or your life, it's best to decline the request.
"I want to delete one of my friends from my friend list. Should I?"
The experts say: "It depends on the circumstance, the relationship you have developed and what your reason for de-friending may be," says Fox. If you're being harassed or threatened, or your real-life relationship with this person has simply ended, hit "delete" – but never with malice or histrionics. "It is never a good idea to be unkind or inconsiderate," she adds.
"I used my camera phone to take some photos of my boss at a recent company party. Is it OK to post them?"
The experts say: No. Regardless of whether or not it's a colleague or one of your best friends, taking photographs of people with your phone and posting them on the Internet without asking their permission is rude. "We have to respect people's privacy, especially when they're being, perhaps, outrageous and letting down their guard," Hoechsmann says. "Consent should be obtained."
"My colleague sent me a friend request. Should I accept?"
The experts say: It depends on how much of yourself you're willing to share with your fellow coworkers. "It becomes very difficult to separate work from private life in social networking," Altilia says. "Your personal contacts can quickly become linked to work contacts." As such, be mindful of who you accept as your friend. And if it's a request from someone you feel uncomfortable rejecting (such as your boss), accept it, but understand that you may need to operate more conservatively in that social-networking environment as a result.
"My online profile has some quirky content. Should I let my colleagues see it?"
The experts say: It's probably not such a good idea. Profiles to which you're adding business contacts should be clean, concise and geared toward your skills and experience. "Don't post material that reflects badly on you or others," says Fox, noting that it could come back to hurt you later. Or, as Hoechsmann wisely suggests, if you'd like to build an online relationship with a coworker or superior, consider opening a profile on a business-oriented site such as LinkedIn, and directing professional contacts to befriend you there.
• Phone and Internet manners for kids
• Twitter 101
• 10 things you didn't know about Facebook
• Should you track down old flames on Facebook?
Page 3 of 3