Sep. 8, 2012 at 8:02 AM ET
Gadgets are all around us, getting casually thrown around and scooped up. Sometimes, the gadgets we're pawing aren't ours. But a tablet is not a dish towel. Let's consider the rules of what to touch and not touch.
Hey, can I use your phone?
Always ask. Always. Phones are intimate places — we store our bank records, slightly incriminating emails, very incriminating pictures. Extremely incriminating self-pictures. Even if it's your best friend in the widest world, picking up their phone if only to make a quick call or Google search something is a privileged step into a private zone. Even with no lock screen. Ask first. Make it clear why you want to use it. Alone in a room with the phone? Big nope — nothing looks worse than being walked in on while going through someone else's phone, no matter how innocuous your intentions.
Hey, can I use your laptop?
See above. A computer might actually be less sensitive than a phone, in that it's harder to get straight to sensitive things like messages. But you're still on personal turf — think browsing history. Ask permission. Once you're on, feel free to use the thing like your own, as long as you don't go digging through folders. The browser is like the living room — once you're invited, make yourself at home.
Hey, can I borrow your camera?
This is getting into "can I borrow your car, man?" territory. Cameras are on the upper end of portable electronics, with DSLRs getting into several thousands of dollars. Unless you're dealing with a colleague or very close friend, asking for a camera loan is probably going to push someone into an uncomfortable why-is-this-person-asking-for-my-expensive-thing position. Don't do that.
Yo, can I change the channel?
Again, you've got to be pretty tight with someone to attempt this one — the owner is the remote's sole master. How about: "Can we change the channel?"
Can I put on a new song?
What? God, no. Who do you think you are? Not even the Secretary General of the United Nations can go into someone's party and change the song playing. Even if you ask, the person who says "sure" is probably drunk, and everyone at the party will turn around in one of those record scratch moments and start booing you. BOOOOOOOOOO. Why did you change the song at a party?
Unless it's an incredible song.
But it's probably not.
Don't risk it.
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