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Technology and Etiquette

Last week I read two separate articles that called for a shedding of “old school” etiquette in the digital age.

I would argue that we need better communication etiquette now more than ever.

Email Signoffs

In this piece on email signoffs, Matthew J.X. Malady argues that we should discontinue using any form of goodbye at the end of our emails…

Think about it. Email signoffs are holdovers from a bygone era when letter writing—the kind that required ink and paper—was a major means of communication. The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months. In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it. Then, a formal signoff was entirely called for... But those times have long since passed.

No. Just no.

If you’re in the middle of a back-and-forth volley of emails, sure, drop the signoff. (Or better yet, pick up the phone. Email sucks for that kind of correspondence.)

But for an initial communication, a farewell is just good manners, and those seem to be few and far between nowadays. Not saying “goodbye” in an email is like just hanging up the phone once you’ve said what you have to say. Who does that?

Does it take an extra few seconds to say goodbye? Sure. But spending a few extra seconds to be polite is time well spent.

Goodbye to "Hello"?

Matthew takes it a step further, arguing…

And while we’re at it, why stop at the signoff alone? Unless the person you are writing to doesn’t know you, or the two of you have never met, you can do away with your name at the bottom as well. And you can generally leave off your recipient’s name at the beginning, too... The recipient saw your name in the sender field when she clicked on the email, and she knows her name, too, it’s generally safe to assume. There’s no need for repetition. Remember, we’re streamlining here. All our lives are about to get simpler.

They also see your name on caller ID, but you wouldn’t just start rambling as soon as the phone stops ringing, would you?

I get that email is a real problem for some people. But being rude to shave a few seconds off your typing isn’t the solution.

If you’re overwhelmed by email, you’re doing it wrong. Solve the underlying problem, which is that you get too many damn emails. Maybe you’re over-relying on it for your communication. Seriously, phone calls solve a lot of issues that emails create.

"No one listens to voicemail anymore."

In his articles on how the digital era is redefining communication etiquette, Nick Bilton writes…

My father learned this lesson last year after leaving me a dozen voice mail messages, none of which I listened to. Exasperated, he called my sister to complain that I never returned his calls. “Why are you leaving him voice mails?” my sister asked. “No one listens to voice mail anymore. Just text him.”

If my father calls, I listen to his voicemails. It’s faster to talk than to type on a mobile phone. It’s more nuanced, too. It’s not always faster, but faster isn’t always better.

Nick continues…

My mother realized this long ago. Now we communicate mostly through Twitter.

Communicating with your mom through Twitter. How… personal. This is the woman who gave birth to you. Answer her damn phone calls.

Communication Overload

I get that information overload is a serious problem for people.

Email. Phone. Text. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. BlackBerry Messenger (ha, just kidding!). There are a lot of ways to connect with people, and it can be overwhelming.

Reducing the number of communication vehicles may not be the right solution. These forms of communication are all great… in the right context. Sometimes a phone call is a better choice than email. Sometimes texting is better. Sometimes it’s an email.

The context and goal should drive the solution.