By: Maralee McKee
Texting etiquette hasn’t reached the heights of the tsunami of texts we send every day because no other technological form of communication has caught on so quickly. It’s easy to see why many have become so smitten.
Texting is the 21st century equivalent of passing a note in class!
It began with students who discovered that electronic notes are more direct and less anxiety-filled than tearing out a sheet of notebook paper, scribbling an “I’ve gotta tell you…” message, folding it securely, and hoping the teacher doesn’t catch you, or that others don’t read your note on its way around the room to your BFF four rows to your left in pre-algebra.
Usually what’s popular with tweens and teens is passé to grownups. Not this time. We might have balked at our kids at first; now we’ve joined them. Those of us over 30 didn’t vote or even hold a town hall meeting, but either through agreement or acquiescence, we’ve joined in. (Do you remember the old Verizon commerical where the teens are getting on to mom and dad for texting? I included it here for you to take a look at.)
Of course, texting in itself isn’t bad or good. It’s in how we use it.
It’s kind of like a family of deer. Watching them graze leisurely in a meadow is a delight. Have them prancing full throttle through your living room equals disaster.
I text, and I don’t plan to stop. Texting in a place where you’re not with anyone or bothering anyone is fine. However, texting around others or as part of multi-tasking often causes harm.
It’s in the less obvious ways than car crashes (We’re 93% more likely to crash if texting while driving.), or while walking, (a New York City area teen fell into a manhole while texting and had to be hospitalized; luckily, she’s fine now) that texting hurts by depersonalizing our personal encounters.
With every text message sent or received in the presence of others around the family table, the living room sofa, the boardroom, or the grocery store check-out lane, we’re separating our focus from the person in front of us.
Our attention is a gift.
Our full attention is the foundation of every kindhearted, other-centered interaction. Texting alters the continuity, focus, and momentum of our encounters.
It produces anxiety (mild to severe) in the other person, and whether they’re telling you (or even aware of it themselves) or not, they’re attention is apt to desire to focus on someone who pays them back equally.
These are big matters.
If we’re not being careful, texting can hurt our family, our friendships, our business relationships, even our ability to govern.
Awhile back a ruckus in the New York Senate halted agendas because one senator was angry at another for fiddling with his smart phone throughout a meeting.
A Yahoo Hot Jobs poll of 5300 people found that 33% of associates admit to texting regularly during meetings. (If 33% admit to it, how many do you think really are doing it? Lot’s more, for sure.)
I’ll never forget, a couple of years ago I was teaching a second-grade class on car manners. When the lesson turned to riding to and from school, the children stunned me. One little guy started, “Mrs. McKee, I don’t talk to my mom on the way home from school. She talks to her friends on her phone. I just play my video games.” One after another, almost all 15 children shared how their moms and dads didn’t give them their focus in what should be precious one-on-one time.
The children felt their parents’ lack of attention. None of them ever told their moms or dads that it upset them. Each one simply conformed to his parent’s norm and mirrored him or her by turning to his own electronic gadget to fill the time (and the void).
As a little dose of etiquette penicillin to try and curb the spread of smartphone-idess. I wrote this post, What To Do When Someone is Paying More Attention to Their Cell Phone Than to You. You’ll enjoy it if you know anyone who has been inflicted with the dreaded cell phone disease.
They were alone together. That’s Sad.
So what do we do at home, at work, and in our world at large to keep up with technology and to be purposely focused on those physically near us?
Well… first we make ourselves aware that we might be adapting to a new norm of lack of focus on others without even being aware of it.
Second, we stop.
Next, we set down new social standards (etiquettes) for ourselves, our families, and our businesses, for interacting with technology so that we use it to connect with those near us, not disconnect from them. If you want to make sure you never hurt anyone unintentionally while using your phone, check out these posts I wrote, Your Savvy Guide to Smartphone Manners and this one, How to Avoid the 7 Most Common Cell Phone Sins.
As I sat down and wrote my list of texting etiquette, I quick as a wink realized it was way too long for this post. There are whole books written on technology etiquette including one I plan to write.
So, here I offer my top seven tips for keeping up with the Joneses while texting without becoming “that guy,” the one who lets technology get in the way of his face-to-face interactions.
Seven Golden Rules for Gracious Texting
1. Think of texts as preludes or follow-ups to conversation, not the conversation itself. Keep them short. More than 160 characters means that a phone call or e-mail is the better way to deliver your message.
2. It’s super easy for your tone to be misunderstood in a text, even more so than an in e-mail. That’s why texts are best left for mundane messages like, “I’m home safely!” or, “See you at 8:00 PM at your house.”
3. Texting while you’re with others is as rude as getting up and leaving them in mid-sentence. Just don’t do it! Also, don’t text in movies, church, meetings, class, or while at someone’s house. Even if your friends have left the area for a moment, or the movie, business meeting, or church service hasn’t started yet, be tuned in to the place you’re at as soon as you enter the area, even in the quiet moments and down time.
4. Texting is the most informal form of communicating. Usually, you don’t want to represent your business or organization or to relay important family news (unless everyone has agreed in advance) in a text message. Call or e-mail instead.
5. Don’t use text lingo and shorthand unless you’re positive (It’s really hard to be positive.) the recipient is fluent in the constantly emerging language of texting. One techno-savvy twenty-something wrongly assumed “LOL” meant “lots of love.” Poor girl, she was heartbroken and embarrassed when she found out the guy on the other end was being rude by “laughing out loud.” He wasn’t sending his love at all.
6. Don’t leave them guessing. If the recipient likely doesn’t have your cell phone number stored in their phone, make sure to let them know who you are before composing the rest of your text. For example: “Hi, Everly! This is Sarah (Kim’s mom from school)…”
7. Don’t send texts (or e-mails that go to smart phones) after bedtime. If the recipient forgot to turn their phone to silent before turning in for the night (like my husband has done twice in the last week!), you’ll wake people up at midnight by the beep of their phone alerting them they have a new message.
8. OK, I know, I said “7 Tips” but this one just has to be said again. Please, please, please, don’t ever text, or read a text while driving! Maybe you haven’t hurt yourself or anyone yet; but this just could be the time! Don’t do it, ever! Ever. Ever.
Well there it is, like I said, it’s just a start! Now it’s your turn!
Help write the chapter on texting etiquette. Comment back and include what you want the world to consider about keeping others first while texting. Feel free to share your texting stories. It just might help someone shine when facing the same dilemma in the midst of their everyday encounters.
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I appreciate each of you. I hope you know that, but just in case you don’t, consider yourselves much loved!