My husband and I raised our sons during the fleeting history of Instant Messenger, followed later by cell phones, texting, and smart phones. Where once I wrote thank you letters, I have largely shifted to expressing thanks by email, and where I used to talk by phone, I now text for short messages. I sometimes wish that we had a guide to help us navigate these new ways of interacting with one another. I’ve tried to evolve my own personal list of etiquette guidelines to match the times.
Here’s my partial list:
-If you get the sense that there is misunderstanding in your text conversation, pick up the phone to clarify verbally.
-Do not keep your phone turned on at the table when eating with company. The constant pinging or tendency to check your screen detracts from your ability to be truly present and engaged with others.
-Do not read emails or texts while attending to a baby or child. This not only models disconnecting behavior, but failing to connect may slow the development of their brain and nervous system.
-If you had a really nice visit with someone, or they went to a lot of effort to give you an especially good dinner, outing, or birthday present, I still recommend a hand-written note over an email.
-If a text or email contains anything confidential or potentially hurtful, send it in writing, or better yet, meet in person.
-If you have to terminate someone’s employment, let them know in person. It’s fine to write a letter to have a paper trail after the fact, but do not send an email in place of a person-to-person meeting.
-If you decide to break up with a lover, do it in person. Do not text, email or call. Exceptions to this might be when the person is abusive or potentially dangerous.
-Don’t let your search for information on the web replace the chance to gain wisdom from others. Keep talking to those whose life experience can inform your own. Seeing what’s on your phone is not the same as sharing from the heart or from life experiences.
-When someone you love writes you a really special email, save it in an electronic file, or print it out, or both. If not, you will have no record for your children, or for future posterity. Otherwise, we will lose the personal history of our generation!
-Take an “E-Sabbath!” Choose a day a week to be electronically free. This will stimulate your creativity; connect you to yourself and others. We all need to spend time alone in order to find and cultivate our greatest potential.
Technology has many benefits; quicker response times, easier long distance communication and virtual visits, to name a few. Yet, it is not a substitute for the in-person contact that teaches us to read body language, helps cultivate empathy, and keeps us connected to our hearts and each other.
What would you add to my list of electronic etiquette?
If you want more data, see the following:
The New York Times’ Sunday Review, from September 27th, called “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” by Sherry Turkle. (CLICK HERE TO READ IT) This features a 30-year study by the University of Michigan, which found a 40% decline in empathy among college students, with most taking place after 2000. One teacher in the study observed that 12-year-olds today play on the playground like 8-year-olds. They lack the ability to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.