Mobile Computing: Avoid Committing Ear Spray
Are you guilty of committing "ear spray"?
Ear spray, a term recently attributed to NPR's Morning Edition, is the tinny sound that leaks out of someone else's headphones. An NPR producer humorously described her experience on a crowded train, when she was subjected to second-hand sound from a young man's iPod.
The NPR story got me thinking about the downside of portable electronics. The more these devices shrink in size and cost, the more often they're used in public places. And that means you and I, when we're using a cell phone or MP3 player in public, can be increasingly more insulated from those around us. All too often, that insularity causes us to be oblivious to the rights of others. It wouldn't hurt any of us to consider how our use of portable electronics may appear to others--particularly colleagues, business partners, and bosses. The last thing any of us wants is to come across as unprofessional.
Miss Manners does a far better job of dispensing etiquette advice than I can, but I'll give it a try this week. Here, then, are some ways not to alienate others when using portable gear.
In the Office
1. Don't wear a Bluetooth earpiece in a meeting. Most of the time, Bluetooth earpieces aren't a problem. But if you're in a meeting, particularly a one-on-one, consider removing yours. Why? Because wearing one in a meeting sends a couple of messages:(1) The meeting may be interrupted at any minute if you get a phone call; and (2) that call is as important to you, than the meeting, if not more so. So I remove my earpiece and turn off my cell phone in most meetings.
What if the person you're meeting with is wearing a Bluetooth headset? You might kindly ask them to take it off, explaining that it distracts you from the discussion. Or you might go ahead and wear yours, since you're not likely to offend them. Even so, I'd still remove the thing. If nothing else, your ear could use the rest.
2. Remove both earbuds when spoken to. Some people at the office--particularly in a cubicle environment--listen to music while they work at their desks. It's a great way to block out noise pollution and concentrate. But when someone comes into your cube to talk to you, I suggest removing both earbuds.
Leaving in one or both earbuds may suggest that the conversation you're having is no more important than the music you're listening to. Even if you work for the coolest start-up on the planet, headed by a 16-year-old CEO, remove your earbuds or headset when someone talks to you. First, how hard is it to do, anyway? Second, it shows you're serious about your work--something even a 16-year-old could appreciate.
3. Turn down the volume. As the NPR reporter noted, just because you're listening to music with earbuds or headphones doesn't mean others around you won't be subjected to second-hand sound. Whenever you're at the office or in a crowded train, elevator, or other public space, do everyone a favor and lower the volume to prevent ear spray. If nothing else, do it for the sake of your eardrums--or what's left of them.
Outside the Office
1. Look before reclining your airplane seat. Trying to work on a notebook while flying in coach is hard enough--and then the person in front of you suddenly reclines their seat all the way, and you've got to scramble to move your notebook closer and keep the screen angled so you can read it. And you're even more cramped than you were before. When that happens, feel free to ask the person--nicely--to move their seat up a little, so you can work more comfortably.
Likewise, the next time you're in a crowded airplane, look behind you before reclining your seat. If the person behind you has an open notebook on the seatback tray, let them know your intention. This gives the passenger behind you the opportunity to move their notebook (and anything else, such as a cup of coffee) away before you recline.
2. Don't make your gadget part of the show. Most people know that it's highly annoying to talk on a cell phone during a movie or live performance. (A hilarious scene from the original Scary Movie comes to mind.) And yet, on numerous occasions I've sat near someone who thought nothing of checking voice mail, sending an IM, or even surfing the Web from their cell phone--with its distractingly bright screen--during a movie.
Your Thoughts and Anecdotes
Do you have other suggestions for how to maintain a professional image and be considerate of others when using portable electronics in public? Have any juicy stories about others who have committed heinous acts of selfishness while using portable gadgets? Send them my way.