Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an email or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?
Don’t these people realize they are wasting your time?
Of course, some people may think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.
Take the “thank you” message. Daniel Post Senning, a co-author of the 18th edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette,” asked: “At what point does appreciation and showing appreciation outweigh the cost?”
Senning sees it as part of the evolution of etiquette, with the younger generation creating new norms as technology changes, often to the objections of the older generation.
That said, “it gives the impression that digital natives can’t be bothered to nurture relationships, and there’s balance to be found.”
Then there is voice mail, another impolite way of trying to connect with someone. Think of how long it takes to access your voice mail and listen to those long-winded messages. “Hi, this is so-and-so….” In text messages, you don’t have to declare who you are, or even say hello.
Email, too, leaves something to be desired, because the communication could happen faster by text.
The worst offenders of all? Those who leave a voice mail, then email to tell you they left a voice mail.
Part of the problem is offline and online communications borrow from each other, said Tom Boellstorff, a professor of digital anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. For example, the email term CC stands for carbon copy, as in the carbon paper used to copy a letter.
Some gestures, such as opening an email with “hello” or signing off with “sincerely,” are disappearing.
This is by no means the first conundrum with a new communication technology. In the late 1870s, when the telephone was invented, people didn’t know how to greet a caller. Often, there was just silence.
Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor, suggested saying “Ahoy!” Others proposed, “What is wanted?” Eventually “Hello” won out.
Now, with Google and online maps at our fingertips, what was once normal can be seen as uncivilized – such as asking someone for directions when they can be found easily on Google Maps.
The value of Google
I once asked a friend something easily discovered on the Internet, and he responded with a link to lmgtfy.com, which stands for Let Me Google That For You.
In the age of the smartphone, there is no reason to ask once acceptable questions: the weather forecast, a business phone number, a store’s hours. Some people still do. And when you answer them, they respond with a thank-you email.
“I have decreasing amounts of tolerance for unnecessary communication because it is a burden and a cost,” said Baratunde Thurston of Cultivated Wit, a comedic creative company. “It’s almost too easy to not think before we express ourselves because expression is so cheap, yet it often costs the receiver more.”
Consider your audience
Thurston said he encountered another kind of irksome communication when a friend asked, by text, about his schedule for the South by Southwest festival.
“I don’t even know how to respond to that,” he said. “The answer would be so long. There’s no way I’m going to type out my schedule in a text.”
He said people often ask him on social media where to buy his book, rather than Googling the question. You’re already on a computer, he exclaimed. “You’re on the thing that has the answer to the thing you want to know!”
How to handle these differing standards? Easy: Think of your audience. Some people, especially older ones, appreciate a thank-you message. Others, like me, want no reply.
The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said that in traditional societies, the young learn from the old. In modern societies, the old can learn from the young. Here’s hoping politeness never goes out of fashion, but that time-wasting forms of communication do.