The great thing about face-to-face, or ear-to-ear, conversation is that we can communicate the nuances of what we mean. There's context. Because email, let alone text or Twitter, tends to be brief, an awful lot gets lost. A simple request via email or text can sound peremptory and demanding. The same point made via a brief conversation or voice message will sound as reasonable as you want it to sound.
I once worked in the San Francisco bureau of a news service that was based in New York. Although it made perfect sense for editors in the main newsroom to reach us by instant message (this was before texting was common) when they were rushed, there was no context. I still remember an editor who blocked my IMs in the middle of an exchange, the equivalent of abruptly hanging up the phone. I was mad at him for the rest of the day. It turned out there was a real emergency to deal with. Had we been on the phone, he could have uttered one sentence and that would have been the end of it -- no hurt feelings on either side.
Manners will evolve as the technology does
As communication evolves, manners and etiquette evolve as well. Most of us know that it's rude to "shout" via email -- that is, write in capital letters to emphasize a point. In earlier days, people learned the polite way to answer a phone and conclude a conversation.
Now we're learning those lessons about texting, tweeting, and posting on Facebook. All different technologies, but all part of communications and human interaction.
If you were out to lunch with someone and that person sat across the table and read a magazine, wouldn't you be offended? Of course, you would. But now it's very common to see someone at a meeting or a social event ignoring the people around them while checking for messages or whatever on a smartphone. Some of that behavior, I fear, is a symptom of short attention spans engendered by too much technology, but in any case it's just plain rude. If I'm meeting with someone, I'd like to think that I'm at least as interesting as that Facebook post.
This isn't a generational issue. My 20-something daughter is all over technology, and unlike Bilton, who says he doesn't respond to his father's voice messages, she makes time to call her dad.
Technology keeps evolving. Pretty soon we'll have to find ways to integrate Google Glass and maybe Memoto (a wearable digital camera that snaps photos every 30 seconds) into our lives. Is it rude to take pictures and post them online without asking permission? I'd say so. Indeed, a bar owner in Seattle has already banned the wearing of Google Glass in his establishment. That was probably a publicity stunt since the glasses aren't on the market, but you get the point.
New technology demands adjustments to our manners. But manners still serve the same old function: Enabling us to get along with each other. I hope that never changes.
This article, "We still need Emily Post in the digital age," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.