Digital Manners

 Posted by on 27 March 2013 at 10:00 am  Communication, Etiquette, Technology
Mar 272013

This article — Disruptions: Digital Era Redefining Etiquette — raises some fascinating questions about the evolution of manners with the rise of the internet, social media, and other new technology. It begins:

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?

Don’t these people realize that they’re wasting your time?

Of course, some people might 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.

For me, the burden of online communications doesn’t come from the mere inflow per se: I’m good at reviewing, then deleting or archiving my incoming mail. (Hence, I do send those little thank-yous, as I like to acknowledge receipt and express appreciation.)

The major burden lies in what I need to do in response to some email — not just replying (which often requires a bit of research), but also making decisions, updating projects, and the like. The problem is compounded when I receive the information by some means other than email — such as a Facebook message, tweet, or text message. Those venues are perfect for quick replies, and I prefer them to email for that. But I never use them as storage, as I do my email inbox. So if I can’t reply right away, then they’ll just be forgotten. (That’s not always a bad thing!)

I expect that managing my online communications will always be something of a struggle. Yet over the last few years, I’ve done better in two ways.

  • I improved my implementation of Getting Things Done, thanks to some tips that Andrew Miner offered in this interview. I don’t have projects masquerading as tasks any longer. I don’t use artificial deadlines. Instead, I’ve gotten in the habit of making progress on critical areas of focus by just reviewing my projects and tasks, then buckling down to get some stuff done. (Amazingly, that works!)
  • I’ve developed the habit of writing very short emails. I almost never discuss anything other than logistics via email: if I want to have a serious conversation, that must be done in person or via the phone. Or, if a person has a philosophic question, that should be submitted to the queue. I engage in substantive discussion in Facebook comments pretty regularly though. That’s because others chime in with interesting remarks, the medium encourages short comments and dialogue, and I can simply drop out when I get busy.

At this point, I wonder what I can and should do to function better. So… what have you done over the past few years that has helped you better manage your digital communications?

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