Technology and travel: digital etiquette

Who hasn’t been stuck on a plane next to the guy whose laptop screen makes the entire row bright enough for you to read a book - only when you were hoping to take a nap? Or there’s the know-it-all, annoying tourist in your group - who is looking up facts on his iPhone and trying to take over the tour of the Colosseum.

Etiquette at the dinner table or on a date is fairly common knowledge, but did you know there are rules to follow when you're traveling and using technology?

The founder and managing director of The Mobile Culture, Michael Matthews, gives eight tips for how to properly click or swipe away on your mobile devices while on vacation.

1. Don't play "stump the tour guide" by looking up the sights you’re visiting on your mobile phone and sharing your findings with the group.

If you are on a tour don't be tempted to "fact check" your guide.  They're often trained and are there to you something, not the other way around.  “The tour guide knows something interesting,” Matthews said. “They know local pieces of information. They have these local nuggets that now they’d be offended by even sharing because how can they compete with Wikipedia?”

2. If you post to Facebook, Twitter or a blog, make sure the others you’re traveling with know you’re writing or sharing photos about the trip.

Did you know that you may need permission to photograph certain copyrighted material and underage children, or face the potential threat of a lawsuit? Laws vary from state to state, so it's not only important to know them, it's equally  import to ask permission to photograph people and let them know the images may wind up online. “There’s a lot of different reasons why there needs to be permission beyond just don’t take a picture of me and my non-six-pack,” Matthews said.

3. Don’t “tag” people in photos online without prior approval.

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Not only will the person you tag see it, but all the people who will visit his or her wall will also see it.  Think about that for a second.  Can you image having your work colleagues that you may have Facebook  friended see you in your skimpy bikini guzzling back a beer? “People want to relax when traveling and nobody will if undesirable pictures are being broadcast,” Matthews said.

Also in the same vain, some tweets or photos shouldn’t be posted until you’re home --or not at all.  You don't want to broadcast every move for folks who may not be in the same mind frame to enjoy that silly image of you riding a camel. 

“Honeymoon or anniversary pics are better shared after the trip instead of in real- time,” Matthews said. “Those trips are between the two of you and nobody else.”

5. Be careful about posting critical comments online about a destination or trip.

Another tip for those not sharing your experience: “Posting commentary considered ‘negative’ about an area you're touring for the first time disappoints and can even offend others who are envious that you're able to take a vacation,” Matthews said. “Think about the people that are actually seeing those posts. They’re behind their desk. They want to be on vacation. They would dream of being in Vienna.”

6. Unless you’re riding on a bus, train or plane, take off the headphones.

Travel is about the sights, smells and sounds. Not only is wearing headphones rude, it can be dangerous if you can't hear the noise of an oncoming car or a bus.  “Take in the audio of the culture around you,” Matthews said. “Can you imagine walking the streets of San Francisco and never hearing a trolley car with that famous little ding? It’s such a little thing, but it’s part of your experience.”

7. Get in front of the camera.

It's great to document what you see around you, but sometimes it's nice to see you where you've been. “With the help of the Internet and Google images, I can see thousands of pictures of the Eiffel Tower,” Matthews said. “I can see plenty. So when I see another picture of the Eiffel Tower, why aren’t you in front of the Eiffel Tower?”

8. Turn down the screen brightness.

A great traveler's trick is to use your smartphone or tablet screen as a flashlight.  It's great in a pinch, but watch out, you can get some fellow air travelers very angry if that goes off in a darkened cabin.  “Screen brightness has radically improved in the last couple years,” Matthews said. “If sitting next to others on a plane, know that screens are bright enough to keep them awake.”