Digital Manners: Can You Tell a Colleague To Nix Her Annoying Cellphone Noises?

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
March 27 2012 2:07 PM

Working My Nerves (Transcript)

Office etiquette on borrowing earbuds, email misspellings, and loud cellphone games.

Farhad Manjoo: Hey Todd, do you have a spare toothbrush I can use? I left mine at the gym.

Emily Yoffe: I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist.

Farhad: I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.


Emily: Today we have a few questions from listeners who have encountered awkward digital dilemmas at work and aren’t certain how to handle them. Our first letter comes from a woman who doesn’t like to share semi-intimate items with colleagues.

She writes, “Dear Emily and Farhad, recently a co-worker came into my office and asked if she could borrow my earbuds. I’d never been asked this before so I hesitated for a moment, but did grab a pair I had in my iPod and handed them to her. She noticed my hesitancy and said, ‘I’ll clean them off before I give them back.’ While I didn’t need them at the moment, I still feel weird about someone else using my earbuds. It seems gross, kind of like we’re sharing a lollipop or a washcloth. Am I overreacting or was this an unusual request?” Signed, Wax On, Bug Off.

Farhad, what do you think?

Farhad: Oh, she’s not overreacting. This is totally weird and gross. I wouldn’t lend my earbuds to someone and I don’t think she should either.

Emily: We’re in agreement. I’m against the sharing of anything you insert into your body. We’re sitting here with headphones. I don’t even like putting the headphones outside my ears. I always put my hair over it because it seems like there are a lot of personal germs there. The thing about manners is when someone’s being rude, they approach you with their rude question and you’re too polite to say no. I think you have to say, “Hey, you know what, it’s just me. I just can’t share them.”

Farhad: Yeah. If she cleans them out, it’s probably not actually harmful in any way. But it’s just gross that it’s been in your ears and you’re going to want me to wear them after that.

Emily: I agree. They’re clean; they’re probably fine, but no. I don’t want you sticking my earbuds in your ears.