Do you remember the early days of the internet and email? (yes! there was life before all this madness!) We all got a handout with tips for “Netiquette” – don’t use ALL CAPS, avoiding flaming people, in general keep it friendly. Somewhere along the line, though, it feels like our technology expanded more quickly and aggressively than we could develop the necessary etiquette to cope. Unless I just missed the latest handout?
Think about how many times you give out personal information online without blinking. Or have a private conversation on a cell phone on the bus. Or make comments on someone’s photo on Facebook. Should we even be concerned about these things? What is the impact on those around us? And what is the impact on people’s perceptions of us?
I was challenged by a friend when I complained about not wanting to hear someone’s personal conversations loudly discussed on their cells in public. She asked me if I would feel the same way if they were talking to their friend face to face. I have mulled it over and I believe I still would, but what makes the cell conversation more annoying is that it is usually carried on at top volume in public spaces!. The other thing people tend to forget is that you never know who is paying attention. There are so many stories about online disasters (The “Cisco Fatty” fail on Twitter, for example).
It is hard to say whether technology is a symptom or a cause. I firmly believe that people are being brought up with very few manners these days (just ride public transit and note how few teenagers get up for the elderly or disabled) but it seems to be exacerbated by people being plugged into iPods, cell phones etc. People play their music so loudly it is a wonder they can hear at all. [I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but it does always seem to be people with bad music taste that play theirs the loudest.] I have also had the wondrous experience of someone answering their cell phone during a movie, and when they were shushed, they just spoke a little quieter… All this communication technology seems to have cut people off from one another and made them feel like they are moving about in a sound proof bubble.
Another symptom of a lack of “techiquette” seems to come from email, and the phenomenon of social networking sites, as well as cell phones. People expect you to be instantly available. They want you to answer your phone, answer your email and respond instantly. And with that immediacy comes, in my experience, a drop in the standards of communication. When people wrote real letters, they would have to put thought and effort into it, knowing it would take a while to get to the recipient.
These days it is so easy to pop off an email and expect a response immediately. We get impatient when we have to wait. And people don’t seem to give as much thought and energy into their correspondence as they used to. Business emails are dashed off in a matter of seconds and “send” is pressed without a second thought. If you are at the receiving end, it can be frustrating and sometimes off-putting as the person comes across as unprofessional and slapdash. Grammar and spelling and proper sentence construction also fly out the window, which can be equally as damaging to one’s reputation.
So what is the cure? I don’t know if there is one, but there are certain things people can do to develop their “techiquette”. There are a lot of ways technology can work in a positive way for you (see an article I wrote for Suite101.com entitled: How to Use Social Networking Sites) and it isn’t too hard to redeem yourself.
Think about what you want to say and draft your email in Word beforehand. Only answer your email at certain times of the day or days of the week to avoid being overloaded. Write someone a real letter once in a while. And remember there are other people around you, sharing a public space and they may not have the same interest in your personal life that you do, plus you never know who is listening.