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E-tiquette and thank-you texts

C.K. Meena

C.K. Meena  

It warms the cockles of my heart whenever a certain venerable reader of mine drops me a line. He writes email as he would a letter, the way we were taught in school: Dear So-and-So, comma, first paragraph commencing directly below the comma, all para indents aligned, the prescribed spacing maintained when signing off to the right… “How cute,” I can hear my younger readers say with a faintly patronising smile. And after a pause, “What are cockles?”

Right. So my language usage may give away my age. So I’m all thumbs when it comes to using hi-tech gadgets. But you’ve got to give me credit for having the nerve to wade into the digital ocean.

Okay, not doing the butterfly stroke but managing to float, just about. There is one young man, however, who has no time to spare for has-beens like me. If my venerable reader had sent him a letter he would have virtually torn it up without reading it. He is one Nick Bilton whose article in The Reader’s Digest I chanced upon while flipping through the magazine at a relative’s place.

Mr Bilton’s opening sentence leapt off the page and smacked me in the eye. It said: Who sends an email or a text (SMS) message that just says “Thank you”? Other rhetorical questions followed, about those who send you voicemail, and ask you for “a fact easily found on Google”. Only blithering idiots would do such things – that was the subtext, and although Mr Bilton didn’t spell it out he implied it louder than if it had been blared through a megaphone. (“What’s a megaphone?” my younger readers ask.) His next sentence was an imperious “Don’t these people realise that they’re wasting your time?”

A thousand apologies. I am one of “these people” who hadn’t realised that Mr Bilton and his ilk were so in danger of “drowning in digital communication” that a mere thank-you message would dispatch them straight to the bottom of the ocean. I get it, they’re busy busy busy, wrestling with 300 mails in the Inbox, texting and tweeting, a trigger-App-y lot for whom “many social norms just make no sense”. As I read on in growing horror I discovered that I had been criminally indulging in “time-wasting forms of communication” that are a strict no-no “in the age of the smartphone”: asking for numbers, addresses and directions, and of course sending thank-you SMSs galore.

Thankfully I am not alone. My fellow-criminals are legion, and invariably belong to my generation or thereabouts.

Perhaps what sets apart the new generation from the old is not technology per se but the manner in which some of these new technologies are being used.

We old fogeys follow norms and manners from the era of telephones with dials and letters written in ink.

We believe in an outmoded concept we term ‘basic courtesy’ that makes us pick up the phone at first buzz, reply to an email or SMS the moment it meets the eye, and return missed calls at the earliest opportunity.

Many youngsters do not. This is a bitter pill that my disgruntled fellow-offenders have had to swallow. One of their typical complaints would go thus: “Her cell wasn’t switched off, it was ringing, I tried many times but she just didn’t pick up. Then I thought, maybe it’s on Silent, so I sent her a message but she didn’t reply. At some point she must have seen the message and the missed calls, so shouldn’t she have contacted me? Then she called me three days later because she needed something from me, and there was not a single mention, let alone a word of apology, about my calls and message.”

I’ve been doing my best to view such instances of youthful behaviour as merely inexplicable and not inexcusable.

For instance I emailed a certain young man with a Biblical name, asking him a question that called for a simple ‘yea’ or ‘nay’. No reply. My usual response to unanswered emails, particularly those I write to strangers, is to wait for two days and send a reminder on the third. A reminder that is not in the least self-assertive, in which I bleat something like “I wonder if my earlier mail went to your Spam folder”, thus providing an excuse before one is given. This time I decided to hold my horses. I waited for an extra day.

On the fourth day I wrote to the young man, who was no stranger to me. I kind of snarled at him gently and he instantly replied with an explanation and an apology.

Let me contrast this with an example of how you would behave if you were my partner in “time-wasting” crime. I send you an SMS asking you for a phone number. You text it to me or send me a business card. (Confession: Whenever I try to send A a business card with B’s number I end up sending A’s number to B, much to B’s bemusement.) I text back a ‘Thank you’. (I don’t use ‘tks’ although this is perfectly acceptable.) Does our exchange end here? No, if you happen to be like one of my closest buddies. She acknowledges every thank-you with a Smiley.

We time-wasters can never have enough of thank-you messages. Or Smileys for that matter.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 5:06:03 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/citylights-etiquette-and-thankyou-texts/article6394279.ece

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