- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 26, 2000

From cell phones to Palm Pilots to digital cameras to MP3 players, Americans have purchased billions of dollars in technological gadgetry for family and friends this holiday season.

Accordingly, this might be a good time to offer some bipartisan advice. My polling firm partnered with 1-800-Flowers.com to conduct the first national "E-Etiquette Benchmark Poll" to measure what Americans believe to be the most ethical and polite ways to incorporate personal and business technology into everyday life.

There are two distinct types of congressmen the few who still cannot turn on the office computer and the many who carry every gadget and gizmo around their waist and set off every metal detector from Reagan National to Dulles without ever leaving Capitol Hill. With all that buzzing, beeping and ringing all around you, how do you get anything done?

And your staffs? Do you have any idea just how many of your trusted employees behave in a way that the rest of America finds technologically unethical? From your receptionist, who thinks the computer on her desk is her own personal travel agent, to your deputy chief of staff, who spends more time Internet day-trading than legislating, it is nearly impossible to find a Hill staffer with perfect e-etiquette behavior. Have your staff take the test below. I'll bet most of them commit at least one technological breach on a daily basis. I do, and I don't even work for you.

Unethical e-etiquette behavior (Ranked in descending order):

Putting someone on speakerphone without telling that individual 86 percent.

Having an additional person join a conference call without telling that individual 83 percent.

Making personal long distance calls from work 73 percent.

Forwarding a personal e-mail without asking the original sender's permission 71 percent.

Shopping on the Internet for personal items while at work 70 percent.

Planning personal trips or vacations on the Internet while at work 66 percent.

Using your business cell phone for personal calls 56 percent.

E-mailing friends and family on a business e-mail account during business hours 53 percent.

But enough about your staff. Let's talk about you. Must every communication device you own be set at an ear-piercing pitch? Every time you get a phone call, page or some other form of technological contact, must you alert everyone within a 10-mile radius? The silent vibration option on your communication device doesn't cause cancer, and you'd get a little thrill every time someone called or paged you.

For better or worse, technology has indeed invaded every aspect of our lives, and it's no wonder why so many of your colleagues chose to call it quits this year. The already blurry distinction between your personal and professional life has become virtually nonexistent. But use caution here. As the results show below, there are definite differences between what is deemed appropriate in professional versus personal situations.

For example, checking a beeper in the midst of a business conversation is considered downright rude by 34 percent of Americans, but only 22 percent feel the same when dining with a friend. Apparently, one's personal life is fair game for technological interference but an office environment is not.

I have personally witnessed instances of the awful manners listed below: (Downright rude or totally appropriate?)

Talking on a cell phone during a religious service 82 percent and 3 percent.

Talking on a cell phone at a theater or event 62 percent and 3 percent.

Having a cell phone ring during an important meeting 41 percent and 8 percent.

Taking other calls during a conference call 35 percent and 6 percent.

Checking a beeper in the midst of a business conversation 34 percent and 13 percent.

Reprimanding an employee via e-mail 34 percent and 8 percent.

Checking e-mails, schedules and Palm Pilots during meetings 31 percent and 7 percent.

Checking your beeper during an important meeting 28 percent and 8 percent.

Sending condolences via e-mail 26 percent and 16 percent.

Talking on a cell phone when riding as a passenger in a car 23 percent and 28 percent.

Checking a beeper while having dinner with a friend 22 percent and 24 percent.

Putting a friend on hold to answer call waiting 18 percent and 28 percent.

Using a Palm Pilot at a restaurant 16 percent and 14 percent.

Talking on a cell phone at a store 15 percent and 20 percent.

Participating in a conference call via cell phone 12 percent and 24 percent.

Sending a thank-you note via e-mail 8 percent and 45 percent.

Thanking someone for a gift via e-mail 8 percent and 42 percent.

What is the lesson here? While technology is certainly increasing our potential work efficiency, it is destroying any desire for personal, human contact. So do me a favor, Mr. or Mrs. Congressman. Keep your Palm Pilot in your pocket, your beeper on your belt, and turn off your cell phone. Or at least turn it to vibrate.

Frank Luntz has been conducting focus groups for MSNBC.

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