The Dos and Don’ts of Modern Communication


Perhaps one of the proudest moments of my life (or perhaps not) was when I convinced my mother of the pointlessness of leaving me voicemail. “I won’t listen to it,” I told her. “I can see that you’ve called. Just send a text instead.” To her credit, she eventually accepted this and is now—like all mothers, I think—a whiz at sending novel-length texts with just the right amount of illegibility-rendering typos and emoticons so that I have no choice but to just stop whatever it is I’m doing and call her. Well played, Mom. Well played. But it’s hard for me to have too much impatience with my mom because, well, she’s my mom. But what about the other people in my life—and yours!—who don’t observe basic digital etiquette? Do they drive you crazy? Because they sure do drive Nick Bilton of The New York Times crazy, and he went on a bit of a rant this past weekend.

Bilton starts off by observing “Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says ‘Thank you’? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?” And, well, yeah! That Google thing is super-annoying. The other day I got tweeted at by someone who wanted to know if I could help them find show times for a documentary about Brooklyn. Which, if you’ve “mastered” Twitter, then probably you should be able to figure out Google. Probably. But Bilton’s argument funnels from a sort of broad perception of what annoys everyone in this age of digital communication and into his own specific and plentiful problems. Which are plentiful. And really, really specific. Like, Bilton actually has trained his mom to “communicate mostly through Twitter,” because he can’t handle interacting with people any other way. Bilton, of course, is a special case because, as someone with a large digital media presence including over 100,000 Twitter followers, his inbox is probably overwhelmed with inconsequential messages and he probably gets tweeted at about dumb shit all the time. But what about the rest of us? Those of us who don’t mind having someone text us “thanks” after we’ve done something nice? What are the rules for the rest of us? Well, after doing a little crowd-sourcing, I’ve come up with a pretty definitive list of ways to communicate in modern times and not have everyone you know hate you and talk about you behind your back.

Don’t Send Facebook Messages
There’s definitely a hierarchy in email and at the very, very, VERY bottom of that pyramid is the Facebook message. Nobody likes Facebook messages. Nobody likes to read them. Nobody likes to check them. And only monsters send them. Virginia Smith describes the cycle of emotion that happens every time she receives a Facebook message this way, “I feel irritated and then disappointed in myself for feeling irritated at something that is actually reasonable to be irritated with.” Exactly. They’re the worst.

Do Send a Normal Email
Even though some people (Nick Bilton) get annoyed by these, for the most part, a succinctly worded email is usually welcome. Just don’t send too many emails for no good reason. That’s why the Google gods invented gChat. And if you’re not on Gmail? Well, I don’t even really know what to say.

Don’t Send Group Texts to People Who Don’t Know Each Other
Group texts are almost always super-annoying because they involve a whole bunch of people and the more people involved with anything, the more annoying that thing will be. Plus, using group texts as a tool for coordination seems, at best, a bit dysfunctional and, at worst, a sign of laziness from the originator of the text. But when you don’t know the other people looped into the group text? That’s the fucking worst. Because then it looks like you’re getting text messages from numbers you don’t know, which is always creepy. And you might think you can guess who some of the people involved are, but you’ll never really know. And you keep getting the texts and it’s awful. Never, ever do this.

Do Send Individual Texts to Your Individual Friends
Seriously. Is it that much extra work to copy and paste your message? I mean, yeah. Sure, it is. But don’t be lazy. These are your friends you’re communicating with. And if you want them to stay your friends, treat them well.

Do Not Ever Leave Voicemails, Unless You Are Somebody’s Mom
When talking to other people about communication pet peeves, nothing shuts a conversation down like the subject of voicemail. Everyone hates voicemail. Mike Conklin put it succinctly, saying, “Voicemails are idiotic.” And that’s really, almost always true! Even if you have an iPhone and can see your voicemails laid out before you, like so many digital turds, and pick and choose what you listen to, it still sucks. I don’t want to have to listen to things! That’s as bad as when someone sends you a link to a video that’s longer than a minute. Who has more than a minute to spare on one thing? Nobody. So, please, whatever you do, don’t leave voicemails.

Do Follow Up With a Text
Ok. I don’t mean follow up a voicemail with a text. I mean that if you call someone and they don’t pick up, hang up and then send a text. This is insurance in case they were on the subway or something when you called and won’t see your number pop up. But, really, you might want to consider just texting to begin with. It’s really the best form of phone communication at this point, if I’m being honest. Which, I’m nothing if not honest.

Don’t Ask Someone to Google Things For You
Nick Bilton specifically mentioned this annoying topic in his article and Henry Stewart confirms that this drives him absolutely crazy. And, trust me, you don’t want to make Henry Stewart crazy. That is definitely something to avoid at all costs. It speaks to a laziness that is unforgivable even in our current culture of near-universal intellectual atrophy. So before you ask a friend for the address of the place that you’re both headed—an address your friend already had to look up for himself—take the time and energy to look it up yourself. It’s the right thing to do.

Do Ask Your Friend For An Opinion That Can’t Be Googled
It’s pretty simple, actually, this rule—if it’s a fact, google it yourself, but it it’s an opinion, it’s ok to ask your friend. Maybe you don’t trust the restaurant reviews on Yelp. In which case, good for you! You’re smart. So, it’s totally fine to ask your friend about something along those lines. Just don’t ask your friend for a restaurant’s closing time or something. Don’t be lazy.

Don’t Leave Rude Anonymous Comments
This kind of communication doesn’t really happen between friends, of course. At least, I hope your friends aren’t leaving rude anonymous comments on things of yours. But it is something to keep in mind as we all go about our lives on the Internet. It’s so easy to write something mean-spirited without thinking about the fact that there is a real person behind the words that you see on the screen. Well. I guess it’s so easy. I wouldn’t know. I don’t leave rude comments because some people need to have a sense of civility. And the fact that this burden falls on my shoulders? Is a little weighty, I’ve got to say. But we should all keep it in mind. Rude comments are a waste of everyone’s time.

Do Say Nothing If You Have Nothing Nice to Say
The main lesson with all these modern communication rules is that no one is forcing you to say anything. You can keep your mouth shut and your fingers still and everything will be just fine. So consider being quiet instead of saying something nasty. Or better yet? Use some emoji! Emoji are a great way to express yourself if you can’t find the right words. And then everyone will be happy. Which is all I want, really. For everyone to be happy.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen


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