The Butler Is In: Good manners in the digital age

Our etiquette expert cracks down on people obsessed with their cellphones, who have to take every message, talk, text, and take photos, instead of paying attention to the people they are with.

There are right times and wrong times to use cellphones or take photos

Our etiquette expert has had it with people who ignore everyone else and pay attention to what's happening on their phone. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

The Butler Is In. CBC P.E.I. has launched a summer series featuring certified protocol and etiquette consultant John Robertson, who will guide us through how to do things the right way.

Robertson spends his summers in Murray Harbour, and is a professionally-trained English butler.

This week, Robertson has advice for the new digital age, explaining what's rude and what isn't when using your cellphones and devices, especially when you're with another person.

1. Use your manners instead of your cellphone

Robertson is appalled at people who continue to talk or text when they are in a service situation: "When they're at a grocery check-out, or the bank teller. At the Access P.E.I. office in Montague, they've got signs at every wicket, asking people to please put down their phones while they're being served, and I can't believe they have to tell people this simple fact. You don't talk on your phone when somebody's trying to be of service, renew your license, whatever."

2. Pay attention to the person you're with

"If we're talking, and I'm texting, or checking my messages, or reading my screen, what message do you get? I'm not that interested in you, you certainly don't have my full attention."
Certified protocol and etiquette consultant John Robertson is a professionally-trained English butler. (Jesara Sinclair/CBC)

3. Don't be disrespectful

"Making or taking a telephone call when you're in a meeting, when you're at a party, when you're in a restaurant, just telling everybody else that they are less important. 'My dry cleaner says my dry cleaning is ready, I've got to take this call!'

4. Stop for lunch

"Take a break over meals. Please, turn it off, and connect with those you're with at a meal. And at meetings, theatres, any social event, silence your phone, unless you're a medical professional waiting to be called into surgery. At any ceremony, like a wedding, a funeral, a graduation, nobody wants to hear a phone ring."

5. Keep your conversations to yourself

"Those loud, lengthy, personal conversations, we've all heard them, in a lineup for example. If those around you can hear your business, you're talking too loudly."

6. Photos — know where and when to take them

Sure, we all love photos but, "I don't want them taken when I'm exchanging wedding vows, I don't want them taken at a funeral, for goodness sake," says Robertson. "People who come to events need to be present in the moment with the celebrants, with the mourners, with the people who matter in your life."

7. Use photo restraint on social media

"People think it's their right and duty to post everything, right down to pictures of their lunch, to social media. And don't post other people's news. It's their news, not yours, their engagements, their births." Robertson also reminds us not to post news of someone's death, that's up to the family. You could be accidentally informing someone close before family has been able to contact them.
Robertson says email should be answered or acknowledged within 24 hours of receipt. (Reuters)

8. Email etiquette

Robertson says email should be treated like telephone calls, and should be answered within 24 hours of receiving. And know the difference between a personal email and a work one. Professional emails should be professional.

"Start off with a useful subject line, not 'Hiya.' Personalize it so the recipient knows it's not a broadcast message that 1,000 other people have got. Introduce or re-introduce yourself: 'We met at the technology fair last week at the widget booth.' Be brief; most people lose interest after 150 words. And no emoticons: "You don't want cute in a business email."

Files from Island Morning