Etiquette in the Digital Age

writing_stylesIt happens whenever new communication technology comes into widespread use. Standard forms of behavior that worked well in the past are less suitable for the new medium. When the telephone was invented, people were unsure how to greet the caller. Thankfully Alexander Graham Bell’s proposed “Ahoy!” was not adopted. Similarly, recent technologies such as text messaging and smartphone internet access are challenging existing norms and creating new ones. This post describes some of those changes, but should not be interpreted as taking a position on which are appropriate.

One taboo is asking someone a question when the information is readily available on the internet. If you want to chide the questioner you might use lmgtfy.com, which stands for Let Me Google That for You.

Voicemails–a relatively new technology themselves–are on the way out, replaced by a follow-up text message if necessary. Caity Weaver has a list of when she considers voicemails OK and when they are unwarranted.

Personally I use e-mail sign-offs as if I was writing a short letter, but Matthew Malady wants to kill this bit of formality:

[E]veryone has a breaking point. For me, it was the ridiculous variations on “Regards” that I received over the past holiday season. My transition from signoff submissive to signoff subversive began when a former colleague ended an email to me with “Warmest regards.”

Were these scalding hot regards superior to the ordinary “Regards” I had been receiving on a near-daily basis? Obviously they were better than the merely “Warm Regards” I got from a co-worker the following week. Then I received “Best Regards” in a solicitation email from the New Republic. Apparently when urging me to attend a panel discussion, the good people at the New Republic were regarding me in a way that simply could not be topped.

After 10 or 15 more “Regards” of varying magnitudes, I could take no more. I finally realized the ridiculousness of spending even one second thinking about the totally unnecessary words that we tack on to the end of emails. And I came to the following conclusion: It’s time to eliminate email signoffs completely. Henceforth, I do not want—nay, I will not accept—any manner of regards. Nor will I offer any. And I urge you to do the same.

The difficulty with these emerging norms is the disparity in how different people use the technologies. My siblings and I text more than we talk on the phone and are OK with short informal messages, but when our grandmother texts us it is more like an email. Some workers use e-mail for regular communication in their office and may send and receive 100 or more messages a day, while for others it is a much less commonly used tool. It seems likely that different norms could emerge in these various settings, but this will require attention when you are talking/writing to someone outside your usual network. As these norms emerge it will give us a chance to observe the development of micro-institutions in real time.

3 thoughts on “Etiquette in the Digital Age

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