“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?” This begins a biting and personal piece on the etiquette of online communication by Nick Bilton of The New York Times.
As more bits of information are transferred via social network and text, telephone conversations and emails can seem cumbersome and time-destroying. Bilton recalls a story where, after his father left him 12 unanswered voicemails, papa Bilton “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.’ My mother realized this long ago. Now we communicate mostly through Twitter.”
At GigaOM, Mathew Ingram responded to Bilton’s blog post smartly:
I think a larger problem Bilton touches on, but doesn’t address directly, is that we have more competing forms of communication available to us than ever before — and not only are different people at different stages in their evolution from one to the other, but people also use them for very different purposes. So for Bilton’s dad, voice mail is a great way of passing on important information, but Nick prefers the real-time nature of texting or Twitter messaging.
While commenters thought Bilton was too harsh, almost to the point of being rude and insensitive toward his parents, both Bilton and Ingram understand that one must know her audience. Perhaps for our older interlocutors, sending an email or chatting on the phone is worth the extra time, a gesture of respect.
What neither of these writers mention explicitly though, is the notion of not wanting to be reached. I understand how a text or a tweet can be less invasive than listening to a voicemail, but I’m curious about our expectations of availability.
Bilton’s argument is one of efficiency, using seamless communication technology and discarding outmoded mediums. Ingram takes a more sympathetic approach and reminds us that not all of us are Twitter power users. But what about silence? Quiet time? Just because I have a phone doesn’t mean I want to be reached.
When I read these articles I thought of the invisibility feature on Gchat and Facebook messaging, how, at times, I’m in reading/consumption mode, or in the mood to communicate only with a select few. So it’s not that I’m ignoring my parents, or hating on phone calls and older kinds of talk-tech, but realizing sometimes I want to be connected, but not in touch with anyone.