Does the Apple Watch require new rules of etiquette? Experts weigh in.

Three etiquette experts sound off on the dos and don'ts of smart watches.

Christian Hartmann/Reuters
A customer looks at Apple Watches after the device went on display at an Apple Store in Paris.

While smart watches are nothing new, the unveiling of the Apple Watch has flung wearable devices into the spotlight. Since the release of Google Glass, wearable technology has become increasingly mainstream and controversial. They raise new questions of social etiquette.

The Monitor turned to three experts for advice on proper social smart watch manners: Carol Roth, an entrepreneur and CNBC contributor; Jodi R.R. Smith, author of "From Clueless To Class Act" and president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass.; and Daniel Post Senning, the great-great grandson of Emily Post and author of "Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World, Living Well Online."

So what is proper smart watch conduct in public? The experts weigh in.

What is the proper smart watch etiquette during a conversation?

Roth: "If you’re having a family dinner or you’re out in a restaurant, then you’re interacting with people that you know. You want to be present, you don’t want to be distracted by something going on somewhere else, that should be the most important thing for you – to be there. So be there, and don’t be glancing at your watch every 5 seconds."

Smith: "If you and I were face to face having a conversation, and somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned my back to you and started talking to them, that would be seen as being incredibly rude. Any time we break and divert our attention from the person that we’re supposed to be paying attention to to play with an [Apple Watch] or an iPhone or whatever it happens to be, that’s going to have the potential of being extremely rude.

Post Senning: When you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone, you don’t take your attention away from them unless you’ve warned them ahead of time that you’re expecting a call or someone to contact you.

But what if I get an alert on my smart watch?

Roth: “If you are in a business meeting or you are communicating with colleagues, you need to be present in that moment… Either turning it off or setting it to silent or putting it on some other setting, so that 1) doesn’t interrupt what you’re doing, but 2) doesn’t tempt you to become like Pavlov’s dogs, and consistently, every time there’s a bell, look at the watch.”

Post Senning: [Something to be aware of] is there are a lot of deeply ingrained social responses and cues that are related to gestures and the gesture of looking at your watch is a really powerful one. [It] creates a really strong impression in people and usually it's that ‘I’m running late’ or ‘I’m concerned about the time.’ "

What is the proper etiquette for using it in public?

According to the experts, this again falls to being aware of your surroundings. If you’re on a subway car, find a spot where people won’t be “forced to endure half a conversation” or keep a discussion between 30 to 60 seconds long, as Smith recommends. When a server approaches you, don’t play with your smart watch, which can leave them feeling as if they’re being “treated like a machine,” as Post Senning notes. The group agrees that respect is the ultimate form of etiquette.

Roth: It is about being "courteous and not disturbing people in public, especially during travel, [or] if you’re in a restaurant, or, personally, if you’re in a movie theater. You have to be aware that you’re bringing this piece of technology into this conspicuous place that can impact other people."

Final thoughts

Roth: “Basically, this is the bad etiquette of the iPhone or other smart phones on steroids, because now everybody has it hanging out on their [wrist]…I always feel like your rights and privileges are yours until they infringe upon other people’s. So if you’re infringing upon somebody else’s rights and privileges, just don’t do it.

Smith: It’s interesting, because this is not a generational thing. I get asked this question all the time, ‘It’s the young people that are always checking on their phones,’ and that’s simply not the case. This is something that we see across age range [and] socioeconomic factors; this is purely a maturity factor. And there are people who are able to interact with people without being distracted, and there are other people who use their mobile devices like electronic security blankets, and if you don’t mind being perceived as someone who needs a security blanket, then go ahead and check your [Apple Watch] when ever you want. If you want to be seen as a mature individual, then you need to be able to resist the temptation to check the watch perpetually.” 

Post Senning: A general rule I love to offer people is think about the relationship that’s being served. Think about the people involved, and that the vast majority of good behavior or good etiquette is common sense. Once you’ve thought about it, you’re going to make a good choice. Most rude behavior is unintentional, so if you bring your awareness to a situation you’re going to be in good shape.

The principals we see as timeless and eternal ... are consideration, respect, and honesty.... When you’re talking about digital manners, really giving your attention to the people you’re with is a fundamental social etiquette.... Whatever the distraction is, whether it was fidgeting with something in your hands or whether it's texting someone on your cell phone, that’s been bad manners. It was bad manners 100 years ago and it’s bad manners today."

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