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Modern etiquette

Long gone are the days of chivalry, fancy balls and etiquette classes. Today is the era of “me.” Ladies no longer wear long dresses, gloves and hats to town. And you’ll be lucky if one person in twenty will hold a door open for another person. But just because the stuffy manners of years gone by have passed is no reason to forget everyday courtesies that should still be practiced.

The introduction of new and modern conveniences has complicated matters further. Pagers, cell phones and e-mail can leave one puzzled as to what is appropriate.

“The larger problem is a lack of courtesy in the entire culture,” said Larry Leslie, a professor of media ethics.

Cell phones are perhaps the most disturbing of recent technology. Not only do they have the potential to interrupt classes, conversations and meals, they also have the ability to make private issues public knowledge, according to Leslie.

“I particularly object to Nextel (walkie-talkies),” Leslie said. “They are completely inappropriate in public places.”

So what should a student do to stay cell phone friendly? Always remember to silence cell phones before going to class, and don’t just set them to “vibrate” mode. The buzzing coming out of backpacks is just as distracting as an obnoxious ring tone.

If the call is important, step outside the classroom and move to a more private place to take the call.

The worst offenders are those who answer cell phone calls in libraries. There are signs everywhere stating that phones are allowed only in lobbies, but people still insist on yakking while others try to study or read.

“Last spring, about six months ago, we saw (answering phone calls in the library) as an escalating problem because so many more students have cell phones,” said Phyllis Rusceola, library director of USF’s Tampa library. “We have a code of conduct and in that there is a policy on cell phone use, and we posted it throughout the library. That seemed to help to put it in student’s faces.”

And, according to Rusceola, the library relies on each student to decide what is proper cell phone use.

“It is difficult because students are used to talking on cell phones everywhere,” Rusceola said. “But for the most part, students are accommodating when reminded.”

There is a time and place for everything. Some situations and people are more understanding of cell phones.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with answering your phone when you’re talking to someone else, like at a restaurant, as long as you know they won’t be offended,” said Jennifer Bambrick, a senior majoring in advertising. “Technology has given us these conveniences, and now they are just being incorporated into society.”

The primary thing to remember is respect. Respect those nearby when using the phone, keep your voice down, take calls in an isolated area and keep conversations short and to the point. Don’t talk to someone else when you’re on the phone, don’t discuss people or private matters and be aware of your language. Not everyone considers the f-word an appropriate adjective for each expression.

“I like the f-word as much as everybody else, but there’s a time and place for it,” Leslie said.

Another hassle of technology is e-mail. Person-to-person interaction will be null if nothing changes. Just because it’s convenient doesn’t make it better.

“Technology has swept us along and now we feel entitled to use it everywhere,” Leslie said.

E-mail should never take the place of face-to-face interaction. It gives no guarantee that a recipient will receive the message and provides no promise of privacy. It is best to treat e-mail like an open note one would leave on someone’s desk.

When sending e-mail, remember to reference the subject in the subject line, always use proper grammar and punctuation, keep personal messages for phone calls and don’t keep e-mailing people repeatedly if they do not return a message.

A phone call or a meeting in person can go further than an impatient e-mail when one is asking for something. People may respond more promptly than e-mail because their mailbox has one less message that desires an immediate response.

All in all, the rigid restrictions that the word “etiquette” implies are not all rules that necessarily apply today. But common courtesy will never go out of style. And remember to use common sense when it comes to technology.

“We’re not asked to make judgments and I think we should,” Leslie said. “We’re just told we’re supposed to use it.”