Why you should care

Because sometimes you need your phone to tell you, “Dude, you’re being rude.”

Navigating the digital age with utmost tact can be a great big gray area when it comes to demonstrating politeness in social situations. For example, when it is OK to text at the dinner table? Never, warns etiquette expert Thomas P. Farley, also known as Mister Manners. And if you hold off answering that text message, what’s an acceptable time frame in which to reply? By the end of the day, Farley says. Otherwise it becomes “plain awkward.”

Great advice, but most of us don’t have an etiquette expert to text (not during dinner!) for guidance during tricky situations. The next best thing: a smattering of apps and websites created to steer us in a more civilized direction. Many people admit manners are on the decline — an overwhelming 74 percent of respondents in a recent survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs said the U.S. has become increasingly rude as a nation. These tools just might be the ticket to help get our manners back on track.

Before You Hit “Send”

More than 122 billion business emails are sent and received each day. In the hurried nature of online communication sometimes a friendly tone goes AWOL. Want to know if your message is nice enough? Paste it into free politeness Web app by FoxType and have the words and phrases evaluated — and scored — for politeness and impoliteness factors. Co-founder Alex Jiang says the tool is a first step in proving that machine learning and artificial intelligence can “interpret and correct human sentiment.” Still, getting a trusted colleague to give your email a quick read never hurts.

Dude, You’re So Rude!

Know someone who can be a bit insensitive? Free app You’re So Rude lets users send anonymous messages — delivered by the “etiquette patrol” — to people who’ve displayed impolite behavior. Just enter an email address and choose from a variety of phrases. For example: “Someone who cares about you wanted to let you know that being late sends a negative impression.” People often don’t know how to speak face to face, “so they let things fester and brew,” explains Lew Bayer, president of Civility Experts Worldwide, which created the app. This provides an “outlet to address issues before they get out of control.” Of course, there’s a chance that the receiver can guess who the sender was, which brings up its own set of issues. There’s also an option to anonymously applaud others for their polite actions, a feature that, surprisingly, is used nearly 60 percent of the time, Bayer says.

Hey, It’s Quiet Time

Who wants to compete with someone’s cellphone for attention during a meeting? Even worse: Your own cellphone rings unexpectedly. There are several apps designed to auto-silence your phone before meetings or social gatherings. Android app Silent Time will silence your phone based on your weekly schedule, while AutoSilent ($2.99) does the same for iPhones and iPads. Of course, Farley points out, there are also built-in features such as setting an autoreply for text messages to let contacts know you’re busy.

Stop #$%@*&! Swearing

Have a bit of a potty mouth? SwearJar, a bot installed in workplace messaging platform Slack, could be the answer to catching those naughty words, and with a charitable twist. SwearJar, made by Give Lively, a company that creates digital products for social good, flags expletives — and a slew of annoying corporate buzzwords like “wheelhouse” and “synergies” — in user messages. For every instance of a “bad” word, the company has to donate $1 to a charity on the employee’s behalf. Many people don’t realize they overuse certain words “that make people go crazy,” says David DeParolesa, Give Lively’s head of product. This “playfully pokes fun” at unappreciated language and helps “fine-tune” online etiquette,” he says. Bonus: Companies can tweak their naughty list as new annoying words emerge.

It’s great to have apps on our devices to tell us how to politely use our devices, but there’s something to be said for intuition too. Balancing both might just be the solution to bad manners in the digital age.

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