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Here’s how to be the most polite person in the digital world

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These 4 practices show respect and make the world a better place.

I recently wrote about “How to have a healthier relationship with your smartphone,” doling out tips on how you can beat cell-phone-induced anxiety and lead a more focused life. But because smartphones and social media have become ingrained in everyone’s lives, it’s vital we understand how our use of both of them affects others and not just ourselves. That’s called manners, and we can all stand to be reminded of how to be polite when it comes to using our cell phones and social media. 

Eyes up here!

We’ve gotten to the point where it isn’t considered rude to sit at a restaurant with a friend, family member, or even a date and check our phones. Over, and over, and over again. It’s no longer a quick “Excuse me, do you mind if I check my messages?” but a full-out relationship with our small screened devices. Our iPhones are the new third wheel, or fourth wheel, or ninth wheel, because everyone has one, and they’re ruining our real-life relationships, disconnecting us from one another while connecting us to a fake cyber world that’s usually pretty cruel (more on that later). To counter this, if you’re hanging out with a friend, the phone needs to be in your pocket, your purse – somewhere out of sight. If you must, must check your phone for some very important reason, wait until there’s a lull in the conversation, then excuse yourself. No one wants to play second-fiddle to a phone, and it makes people feel devalued when they’re constantly competing for your undivided attention, especially if it’s with real-life friends who aren’t even in the room.

If you don’t have anything nice to say …

… that’s right, don’t say anything at all. It may be tempting to write a snarky comment on the internet, where anonymity is a troll’s best friend, but stop and think, “What purpose does my comment serve?” Is it worth ruining someone’s day, hurting someone’s feelings, or damaging a person’s reputation for the sake of a laugh or a “like”? Words are powerful. They can hurt people or uplift people. Even celebrities, whom we tend to think of as being immune to the struggles we “normal” people face, read and are pained by what is said online. Next time you’re tempted to type something negative, even something you think Gwyneth Paltrow will never read, ask yourself whether you would say that same thing to the person’s face in real life. And remember, as Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” When you get the chance, spread some cheer in the form of a compliment or a word of encouragement into the dark corners of the internet, where it’s so desperately needed.

Respect others’ privacy

Keep social media light and leave the big things offline. Blogger Taya Dunn Johnson describes the shock and pain of finding out someone had posted about her young husband’s death on Facebook while she was still in the process of telling close family members. She even had to ask people not to post photos of her husband’s casket on social media. “It’s a slippery slope,” Johnson told CBC News. “We share everything from our new car to our meal to our new dress. Somehow those things have become interchangeable with death.” Even if you are close to someone who is going through a difficult time or life-changing event, chances are they don’t want the whole world to know about it, and if they do, they’ll tell their story in their own way, in their own time. It’s not your place, even if you have a platform, to expose other people’s business to the world, even if you do it with a well-intentioned “RIP.”

Beware of oversharing

You don’t always say everything you’re thinking out loud, do you? Then why would you express your every thought to millions of strangers? People can get carried away on social media. Yes, your newborn baby is adorable and you’re oh-so proud, but don’t be the person who posts 65 pictures a day. No one cares as much as you do, and your posting can come off as obnoxious and self-absorbed. Instead, savor those intimate moments with family and those you love the most. Debrett’s handy little book, Netiquette: Digital Dilemmas and How to Deal with Them, reminds us not to post when our emotions are running high. If you’re angry, upset, impassioned, or even ecstatic, the book says, “Take a deep breath and think carefully before you post.” Remember, smartphones are a tool to be used for good, but they can very easily be turned into crutches for the bored or mean. Nothing can ever replace real-life, person-to-person interaction, and the less we try to, the better off we’ll be.  

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