FaceTime Etiquette: The Dos & Don'ts Of Keeping In Touch Online

By Rosie Herdman
Unlike poor Chandler, we've got great technology at our fingertips to see our friends whenever we like. Photo / Getty Images

As we collectively exist in our separate bubbles, social distancing as if our lives depend on it (oh, wait…), connecting with our friends, families and colleagues with some face-to-face interaction is more important than ever.

I don’t know about you, but if I don’t see someone for a while their features start to disintegrate in my memory until I’m sure I could walk past them in the street and almost not know them.

This could also be due to the fact that I’m quite short-sighted and have a bad memory in general (I have other great qualities, I swear) but I prefer to push the point that I need regular hang outs with my mates  we all do.

The upside of this whole thing is it’s made many of us better at reaching out and keeping in touch. I’ve never had such a free schedule outside of work, technically, but if replying to texts, Facebook messages and DMs was another full time job, I could do with an assistant.

The upside of this whole thing is it’s made many of us better at reaching out and keeping in touch. Photo / Getty Images
The upside of this whole thing is it’s made many of us better at reaching out and keeping in touch. Photo / Getty Images

Not being able to hang out in person has also opened up the world of video calling  many of us are now conducting reasonable chunks of our daily lives in front of a camera, whether that be for work meetings, virtual happy hours, book clubs, family gatherings or even birthday parties.

Early on in lockdown, I found myself feeling more put-out than usual by FaceTime catch-ups with friends that were arranged but then cancelled last minute by the other person.

I don't mean to put myself on a pedestal  I'm certainly no angel when it comes to rearranging a hang-out, but perhaps being separated from my friends by force rather than choice has made me... more needy? Fragile? Anxious? Who's to say.

I've since gained a sense of perspective (ie everyone's just trying to cope) and chilled out, but it did get me thinking about whether we should apply the same rules to FaceTime and video calling as we do to actual real-life hangouts, seeing as we can’t have the latter right now.

In an era where plans are fluid and flaking has become somewhat of an introvert’s badge of honour, has isolation made us better, or worse, at keeping to an arrangement?

I asked my friend Ruby for her thoughts  as someone whose partner is often travelling (her boyfriend, Jimmy, is a musician who tours with artists overseas) she’s had plenty of practice at keeping the love alive through a camera.

“We haven’t made any specific rules but I think it’s almost the same etiquette for an ‘IRL’ meeting  if you set a time to meet up/video call you should stick to it,” she says. “Just making the time for the person is really important; since you can’t physically see each other it’s really the only opportunity you get to connect with them.”

In terms of etiquette during a call, Ruby thinks it’s much the same as hanging out in person: “You wouldn’t show up to meet your friend or partner and be distracted and not engage with them,” she says. “An obvious rule is to always let the other person know if there are other people in the room at the time if they’re on speaker!”

Other tips to consider are making sure you've got good lighting and your laptop or phone position is flattering for your face. In her recent New York Times piece on Larry David, journalist Maureen Dowd solicited some advice from the king of lighting himself, Tom Ford.

“Put the computer up on a stack of books so the camera is slightly higher than your head. Say, about the top of your head,” he told her. “And then point it down into your eyes. Then take a tall lamp and set it next to the computer on the side of your face you feel is best. The lamp should be in line with and slightly behind the computer so the light falls nicely on your face. Then put a piece of white paper or a white tablecloth on the table you are sitting at but make sure it can’t be seen in the frame. It will give you a bit of fill and bounce. And lots of powder, et voila!”

If that seems a bit extra, you can simply make sure you’re positioned so a light source (preferably natural light if it’s during the day) is in front of you so your face is evenly bathed in light without too much shadow.

Resting your phone or laptop on something so you’re not moving it around too much is also good idea.

Switching your phone to its ‘do not disturb’ function will help you stay present and not get distracted by texts, notifications and emails coming through while you’re on a call, just as in real life you wouldn’t necessarily want to be looking at your phone while catching up with a mate.

Those of us who have access to video calling can consider ourselves lucky  think of our parents’ generation who had no such luxury when making calls to one another on landlines  however nothing beats the real thing, as we’re all no doubt going to feel increasingly over the next few weeks.

“It’s highlighted how nothing beats an in-person hang,” says Ruby of her reliance on FaceTime. “Even though you’re constantly in contact via technology, it’s not the same at all.”

Accepting that it’s not as good as the real thing, but it’s a pretty great tool for us to have during this time, let’s all make the effort to be punctual and present for our friends on FaceTime.

No doubt when this is over, having the ability to flake on real-life plans will be just as much of a novelty as being able to make them, so for now, let’s try and keep that video date  at least you can wear sweatpants while doing so.

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