21st Century Etiquette

Time was that if you wanted a manual for manners, you simply turned to a guide from Debrett’s. With the rise of interweb and netiquette, life is no longer so simple, though Debrett’s still try to give advice on civility in the age of cybersurfing. Take this suggestion they make about email:

Emails will often be printed and filed, and therefore close attention must be paid to layout. Again, treating the construction of an email just as you would a ‘real’ letter is the most effective approach.

Okay. The subtext seems to be not to bother backing up your hard drive. Instead, just devote a wing of your mansion to a library of print-outs of all those one line emails containing links to YouTube videos of cats falling off TVs. But the real question is, when filing your printed emails, should the leather binder be green or red?

So, forget Debrett’s. They are stuck in a timewarp when people needed to know if they should hit their manservant with the back of their hand or with their walking cane. Where else can we turn? There is one obvious answer: the internet. Stop! They let anyone on the internet. And the internet hosts elitists that make the people who write Debrett’s books look like hippy-hugging commies, except the internet elitists think good protocol means knowing your TCP from your IP. Take a look at some of the advice someone at the Internet Engineering Task Force came up with on a wet Wednesday afternoon whilst their modem was busy downloading the latest data on matter-antimatter asymmetry from CERN:

In the past, the population of people using the Internet had “grown up” with the Internet, were technically minded, and understood the nature of the transport and the protocols. Today, the community of Internet users includes people who are new to the environment. These “Newbies” are unfamiliar with the culture and don’t need to know about transport and protocols.

Hmmm… so there was a point in time when there was nobody new on the internet, was there? That must have been one heck of a change freeze. “Please sir, I’d like to use the internet” “No son, you can’t. It’s full and there won’t be room for anyone new to use it until Spring 1993 at earliest.”

Perhaps the newbies could have told the old fogies of the internet one or two things about other kinds of protocol. For example there is the language convention that says a “newbie” is not a proper name and should not start with a capital letter, or the one that says written language should not contain contractions like “don’t”.

But it is an understatement to say the self-appointed sages of the IETF were poor at predicting the future of propriety. Here are some examples…

Respect the copyright on material that you reproduce. Almost every country has copyright laws.

And every country has millions of people who think those laws are a joke and break them every day.

Never send chain letters via electronic mail. Chain letters are forbidden on the Internet. Your network privileges will be revoked.

Another rule that was completely missed by its intended audience.

Remember that people with whom you communicate are located across the globe. If you send a message to which you want an immediate response, the person receiving it might be at home asleep when it arrives. Give them a chance to wake up, come to work, and login before assuming the mail didn’t arrive or that they don’t care.

And some of those people may not even be Americans and they may not even speak English, which rather dents the usefulness of this Californian clot’s list of internet conventions.

Verify all addresses before initiating long or personal discourse. It’s also a good practice to include the word “Long” in the subject header so the recipient knows the message will take time to read and respond to. Over 100 lines is considered “long”.

Another stipulation that did not catch on. And 100 lines is not considered long by me. For me, 100 lines is considered “brief”. That is because I have more to tell people than my thoughts on what is polite use of the internet. Except for right now, obviously.

It is extremely bad form to simply reply to a message by including all the previous message: edit out all the irrelevant material.

Hah. This could only be written by someone who never had to reply to one of my 10,000 line blockbusters.

Since the Internet spans the globe, remember that Information Services might reflect culture and life-style markedly different from your own community. Materials you find offensive may originate in a geography which finds them acceptable. Keep an open mind.

Like how I should keep an open mind when some American tries to dictate what is good manners on the internet.

If a user is using a nickname alias or pseudonym, respect that user’s desire for anonymity.

Tell that to the Chinese government – a good example of a culture unwilling to toe the American line.

Don’t point to other sites without asking first.

Darn! I pointed to this IETF guide before I read it.

Any time you engage in One-to-Many communications, all the rules for mail should also apply. After all, communicating with many people via one mail message or post is quite analogous to communicating with one person with the exception of possibly offending a great many more people than in one-to-one communication. Therefore, it’s quite important to know as much as you can about the audience of your message.

I should get to know the whole world. Nice idea. Difficult in practice.

Don’t badger other users for personal information such as sex, age, or location. After you have built an acquaintance with another user, these questions may be more appropriate, but many people hesitate to give this information to people with whom they are not familiar.

True, but not everyone…

Author’s Address

Sally Hambridge
Intel Corporation
2880 Northwestern Parkway
Santa Clara, CA 95052

Phone: 408-765-2931
Fax: 408-765-3679
EMail: sallyh@ludwig.sc.intel.com

Those were the days… nobody would send you spam because you could rely on everyone to follow the rule that said

Don’t send large amounts of unsolicited information to people.

But enough of pulling apart poor Sally’s guidelines for the Newbies of the ‘Net. Here are five top 21st Century etiquette questions not addressed by Debrett’s, Hambridge, or anyone else that I know of (except they probably have, but who put them in charge?)

1. How To Sign Off an Instant Message Chat With Someone Who Does Not Know When to Stop

You know the scenario. You have chatted away for thirty minutes but your RSI is flaring up and you really really need a pee. So you want to stop but the other person keeps on going…

X: Thanks for the chat, bye.

Y: We need to catch up about that thing. When is good for you?

X: Anytime. Laters.

Y: Cool. Wasn’t Derek impressive giving that presentation?

X: Sure. Got to go.

Y: Yup, see you later. Do you have a copy of Derek’s presentation you can send me?

X: Don’t think so. Sorry. Adios.

Y: It’s been so cool catching up. We should do drinks sometime soon.

X: Yeah, totally. Ciao.

Y: How about tomorrow night?

So by now you have wet your pants and there is no end in sight. What should you do? Is the answer:

(A) Just stop typing. You can always pretend your PC crashed if challenged about it.

(B) Write something shockingly offensive. With luck that will mean one less bozo to annoy you in future.

(C) Call your interlocutor. Chances are he or she is scared of talking on the telephone and they will hang up as soon as possible.

2. What to Do When Your Mobile Phone Battery Dies During a Call

Your loved one is fed up with you because you were once again working late. You are stuck at the platform trying to work out which train is least delayed so you can answer when you will be home for dinner… but before you do, the phone goes dead. That means your better half is bound to assume you just hung up and they will be in a really foul mood when you do eventually make it back. Do you…

(A) Keep pressing your mobile phone’s ‘on’ button in the hope you will have enough juice to text the word “sorry”.

(B) Rummage through your small change and hope there is a payphone within five miles of where you are.

(C) Decide to go down the pub. You might as well take advantage of the fact that the evening will not be interrupted by calls asking where you are.

3. The Blog Comment as Personal Message

Your blog is really popular and gets comments from all sorts of people you do not know. To keep the spam under control, you monitor all comments before they are published. A new comment comes in from someone new. It is not really a comment, but is more of a personal message where the person tells you about themselves and why you should get in touch. How do you respond?

(A) Approve the comment and then post your own comment slagging off anyone who is too stupid or lazy to use the email form in the ‘contact me’ page you went to all that trouble to make.

(B) Reject the comment and do not reply. Whoever it is, he or she must be an idiot.

(C) You have another fan!! Write them a personal email and give them your home phone number too.

4. Dealing With RSS Scoundrels

Your really popular blog is really really popular. It is so popular that some rascal is syndicating your RSS feed and milking your clever content for his own profit. How do you deal with him?

(A) Let him be. It means more people get to enjoy reading your inspiring words.

(B) Switch off the RSS feed. It is yours and nobody can use it without your permission.

(C) Write a script that floods your RSS feed with unfettered and incessant swearing. That will really burn the guy who tried to take advantage of your brilliant material. Sure, it might offend some regular readers, but then again, it will teach them a lesson for not visiting the site properly so they can hit all those click-through ads for matchmaking sites and spread betting.

5. Internet Forum Multi-Answers

You sign up for this great new discussion forum where everyone thinks like you and shares your passions. Then, as always, you realize the forum is full of imbeciles who think the opposite of you and have the world upside-down and back-to-front. You need to straighten them out by showing them the error of their ways. But there are so many different forum users who you need to educate. Should you…

(A) Write a string of posts that individually deal with each and every goof, gaffe and piece of garbage, thus instantly propelling yourself to being the forum’s top poster.

(B) Pick a fight with just the one real idiot so all the other idiots will see how wise you are and start to worship your wisdom.

(C) Post one enormous reply, citing every mistake made by everyone else… and not forgetting to put the word “Long” in the subject heading.

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