Heart Of Palm
The personal digital assistant that simplifies your life can get on peoples' nerves.
Thursday, August 17, 2000
Many years ago, in 1997, Miss Manners published a book on etiquette in modern-day communication. In it she briefly addressed e-mail, chat rooms and the improper art of flaming, before retreating back to her familiar territory of monogrammed notecards.
While the doyenne of correct behavior touches upon matters of technology now and then, she is hardly equipped to keep up with the constant introduction of newfangled gadgetry into everyday life. Who can blame her? Take personal digital assistants. A year ago they were a luxury only the very avant-garde employed. Thanks to lower prices and extensive marketing, now even children are whipping out their Visors and beaming each other their soccer schedules.
The absence of a technologically with-it Miss Manners leaves us lost and alone when it comes to making these unprecedented objects safe for proper society. When, where, and why to beam? What information should every electronic business card include?
We have witnessed with those ubiquitous, annoying, Beethoven-playing cell phones what happens when technology is allowed to proliferate uninhibited by good taste. Lest this happen with PDAs, here''s a few words of advice on Palm/Visor etiquette.
In late April, an investment banker by the name of Seth Goldstein told the New York Times, "Doing your e-mail just because you can, whether you''re in a conference room or at a dinner, doesn''t mean it''s appropriate. But if two people take out their Pilots and are beaming information to each other at a dinner, that''s more acceptable to me because it''s social."
This excellent kernel of advice contains all you need to know about the whens, wheres and whys of using your PDA. In private situations--riding the bus to work, waiting for your plane to arrive, sitting at the cafe, waiting in line--it is fine to use your handheld for whatever it is you use it for. I download news onto my Palm each morning, then read it on my commute. That''s fine.
Public situations are different. It is rude and crude to check your e-mail on your nifty--always connected!--Palm 7 when in the presence of others. Do not laboriously Graffiti in little notes to yourself while everyone at the dinner table looks on with a displeased mix of bafflement and boredom; and please, if you are able, keep your PDA off the table. Stuff it back into your briefcase next to the muted cell phone and dirty pictures, thanks so much.
Now the situation may arise when one person requests information from another--a business card, for example. As Goldstein so kindly points out, it is OK at this point to whip out the PDAs and quickly beam-beam the information. But when the beaming''s done, put your gadget away, lest all more interesting conversation topics become sucked into the product-demonstration vortex.
When I first received my Palm VX (it was a gift, I swear), I was blown away by its capabilities. I wanted to show it off as often and to as many people as possible. Resist this urge. You may think that the technological reorganization of your personal data is fascinating stuff, but I can assure you it''s not. And do not tell someone who may not be able to afford a $400 organizer that he or she simply must have one or risk being left far be-hind. This is untrue and small-minded.
I have already touched upon when and where to beam, but I have not yet talked about what one should beam. Beaming is an exchange of digital body fluids. With each transfer of data, the opportunity for shared delight and personal tragedy exists. Do not send or receive information from an unknown source. If a trusted someone beams you a program that crashes your system, politely let him or her know, but don''t launch into accusations; with such complex technology, you can never be certain where the offending system-crasher originated. Prepare in advance a business card and a blurb of personal info to have quickly on hand when someone requests your 411. Don''t beam to strangers.