Using Wi-Fi in public is a lot like using a cellphone in public. There are do's and don'ts if you don't want to avoid getting stares, mumbled about, or yelled at. So whether you're in a coffee shop, a bookstore, a library, or an airport lounge, try to adhere to the following common courtesies:
- Keep it quiet. Just as people talking on a cellphone tend to speak loudly, the same applies to people Skyping or otherwise using their laptops or tablets to communicate orally. If you need to talk, go outside or to an isolated part of the space you're in or keep it short and say you'll get back to them later.
A public Wi-Fi hotspot also isn't the best place to show off your add-on speakers as you listen to music or a watch videos or movies. Headphones are an inexpensive solution to nip this noise problem in the bud. A noise-canceling headset not only lets you listen to what you want, but it also puts a damper on ambient sounds.
- Share outlets. Laptop and tablet batteries last a long time, but many still feel the urge to plug in their devices. Maybe you want to plug in to improve screen brightness, or maybe you don't want to risk running down your battery for when you need it. But many public Wi-Fi hotspots have limited electrical outlets for patrons to use, and those they have might be in out-of-the-way locations. This prompts some to bring long extension cords, which might violate the location's safety policies and can be inconsiderate to those walking by.
If you're not using an outlet, don't sit next to one - free up that spot for someone who needs it. If you use outlets regularly, consider getting an inexpensive portable outlet extender, which can, for instance, multiply one prong from an outlet into six, enabling more people to use the same outlet. Some outlet extenders include surge suppression.
- Be courteous to the staff. Librarians aren't your personal computer support staff. If you're having problems, some might be able to help you out, but most won't know enough about the details of your particular glitch or have the time to devote to it.
The wait staff at coffee shops and restaurants, and increasingly at bookstores, depend on your buying beverages and such for their jobs, and don't forget to tip. The implicit agreement here is they provide the Wi-Fi to get you in and you pay for the refreshments to keep them in business.
- Avoid public meetings. Though you sometimes see them happen publicly, having a meeting or conducting a job interview are private matters. Just because the space is free doesn't mean you freely should use it as you please.
You hear anecdotal stories of interviewers asking interviewees to disclose personal information, lawyers discussing financial information with clients, and loud meetings involving multiple tables that disrupt the ambiance for everyone else. A better place for such meetings, if you don't have a private office or a conference room available, is a dedicated coworking space at a local business center.
- Stay security conscious. Not only can your laptop or tablet disappear in the blink of an eye, so can your briefcase or purse. When you need to use the restroom, options include asking someone to keep an eye on your gear, packing it all up and setting it up again when you return, or physically securing your laptop to your table with a laptop lock.
For digital security, make sure no one is looking over your shoulder if you need to type in sensitive information. Also make sure you log onto the right network rather than a rogue network with a similar name set up by a crook looking to steal your information.
Finally, even with HTTPS-secured websites, it's safest to use a virtual private network (VPN) system such as Hotspot Shield if you're using public Wi-Fi to make online purchases, conduct online banking, or engage in similar activities involving financial information.