Do Manners Matter In The Digital Age?
There has been, and will always be a dividing line between those that feel proper decorum is the only thing that separates us from savages, and those that feel pleasantries are frivolous and deceptive. It comes up in matters of business, and art, politics, friendship, and relationship everyday life. With the digital age the transmission of communication is faster but we still haven’t managed to accept curt language as the norm even as we seem to value speed and efficiency above all.
Imagine if a salesperson emailed a potential client like this:
I really want to thank you for meeting with me last Thursday! The coffee was great and it was a pleasure to chat with you. How is your wife Ellen? I hope things are good with your new son as well. Those pictures you showed me were pretty cute. If you ever want to grab another bite to eat please let me know. There are tons of cool restaurants on this side of town and I was just reading an article about a new place next to your office that I wanted to try. If you wanted I could bring some samples by your location and we could stop for a bite? I’ll be in the area next Friday so let me know if that works. If not, don’t worry about it, as I am often in your area anyway. Oh by the way, I am attaching a file that details of all of the pieces we offer. If you have a chance take a look and we can talk about anything that strikes your interest. Well until next time buddy!
The potential client would have to read the whole paragraph to get that there was even a pitch in the text and even then it wasn’t entirely a direct proposal. The salesperson’s argument for using a “soft sell” technique may be that they are just trying to be polite, and don’t want to come off too pushy or harsh. Perhaps they really are interested in finding out the wellbeing of the people they do business with.
Listening to someone tell a joke where the punchline takes too long to arrive the audience grows disinterested. The same happens in conversation, the more time you spend in preparation of delivering the core message the more likely that the message will be lost.
On the other side of the coin, there is an element of ceremony that we enjoy above efficiency and speed. Especially in sensitive areas regarding money, politics, and sex. We appreciate decorum because it eases the pressure, communicates respect, empathy, and begins to establish trust. Another example would be a person texting would-be lover ” Hey, wanna have sex tonight?”. This approach could be met with a very defensive attitude and could be taken as harassment. In looking at the text alone, it requires a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This method is very succinct, and efficient but that isn’t the paramount concern in the matter.
Other factors come in to play each time we engage a discussion with a person and context varies with the culture the people are apart of, the nature of the relationship, the topic at hand, and even the specific mood the person might be in at the time. The digital age lends us the ability to shoot instantaneous bursts of information that communicate whatever we want. It has yet to change our feelings about the information itself, but maybe that is changing.
Though we may not prefer to be propositioned by a lover via a short text (or maybe we do) it doesn’t mean decorum in the digital age is static. Just look at the way bosses and business owners interact with employees. The immediate and full time access to information technology has come with it an implication that we must always be attached to it. It is a simple logic to follow but it again, it isn’t one that we have whole-heartedly adapted as of yet.
For those of us that value face to face contact, we understand what it is like to look down at your phone after a dinner meeting and see a dozen texts from one person, eight of which are variations of “HELLO?!?” “CHECK YOUR EMAIL?!” “ARE YOU GETTING THESE?!”, as if typing in capitals make the notification tone any louder.
The real question is not whether the digital age has had an effect on politeness but whether we believe it is relevant to us at all socially. While imposing rules of etiquette and grammar we simultaneously impose a behavioral code as well. Some would argue that in the past the rigid rules of polite society are what upheld the rules of chivalry and courtship. Now gender roles in society are much more relaxed and, so too are the rules of etiquette.
Language is a reflection of our culture, and to impose a framework on our language is to prescribe our behavior as well. So while you ponder on your communication style, ask yourself which social manners you prefer. The answers maybe contradictory, or they may fall right in line, but just as we have become unable to separate from our cell phones, the link between language and behavior are also perpetually linked.