For as far back as I can remember there have always been certain things that were considered appropriate and not acceptable for communicating between humans.
These include guidelines within a particular type of communication as well as when what type of communication is most effective and preferred.
Let’s start with types of communications. It may be impossible for many of us who literally walk around with the world in our pockets to imagine a time when contacting another person was more than a fingertip away.
Anyone who has ever watched a ‘cowboys and Indians’ movie knows the basic etiquette of smoke signals. The Indians mastered them and the cowboys were always giving away their location by lighting fires that created ‘here I am’ smoke signals at the least opportune times.
There were also the signals that resulted from catching the sunlight on a piece of mirror or glass. I don’t know the science behind it. But it seemed to have its good points too unless it was cloudy, raining or nighttime.
THE QUANTUM LEAP
According to John Perry Barlow, the telegraph was the signal of the technological leap that begat the types of communication we have today. With ‘Morse code’, messages could be transmitted by wire (or cable) over great distances both across land and sea. They were ‘translated’ from code to an understandable language.
That worked well except for when some a cable broke or some ne’er do well cut the line and interrupted the then vital means of communication.
Then came the telephone, with operators. Invariably in a small town, the telephone operator was the best-informed citizen, even though one was not supposed to listen in on private conversations. The same shortcoming existed where people shared the same phone number called a ‘party line’. The person being called knew by the type of ring tone which party it was for. There again one could listen in their neighbor’s call and violate their privacy.
If you remember the movie, Driving Miss Daisy, there was one phone in the first floor hallway. There was a piece of furniture it sat on and on a shelf with the paper phone book. Well you can wipe out that nostalgic memory along with all the great ‘telephone tables’ I painted as a decorative painter. They were a combination of bench, table and shelf. Some of them were quite lovely and a modern facelift made them quite the collector’s item.
But then, every room had a phone. Phones came in every color to match any décor. There were princess phones for the ladies of the house, wall phones for the kitchen and the standard table or desk phone. They were all made by one company and they were made to last. In fact, they outlasted the technology they were made to serve.
Now let’s fast-forward from operators, to dial phones, to touch tone phones, to huge mobile phones, to car phones, to the cell phones of today. That’s lots of kinds of phones. There is also faxing, texting and the myriad of ways we can communicate by Internet.
We have so many choices. Do we call someone and on a landline or by cell? Do we e-mail them? Or should we text them, message them on Facebook, or use Google +? How did people manage before? Many people in countries where landlines are not laid use cell phones as their major line of communication. Most of us, in what we consider ‘civilized’ countries, cannot live without our cell phones even though we have landlines too.
But have you noticed that given the nature of the relationship, it is sometimes a challenge to know which is the most appropriate way to contact someone? Is a phone call too familiar? Sometimes it can be. I have even noticed that an email can be intrusive too. In fact, it is not so easy to get someone’s e-mail address anymore. Many businesses have a form to fill out so they can contact you.
WHAT TO DO
So far there does not seem to be an official etiquette book on the do’s and don’ts of present day communication. I find a lot of it is common sense. Just about as often, I go by what feels right to do. Sometimes, I will have many choices, which makes it more difficult. Other times, the situation limits my choices and makes my decision easier. Here’s a general rule of thumb or ‘Ten Commandments of Communication’ that I have developed:
- Do what is least invasive. You can always move onto another less formal means of communication once the groundwork is laid.
- Email in all caps is considered yelling, so use your indoor voice.
- Unless someone is your sweet heart or it is an emergency, call at a reasonable hour. What is reasonable does vary from person to person.
- Do not call someone’s cell number unless they gave it to you or it is on their business card.
- Personal email addresses should be given the same consideration.
- Ever think of sending a letter? I mean a personal letter, not spam.
- And speaking of spam, the verdict is still out on bulk email in my book. Even people on a permission-based mailing lists can find one newsletter after another rather tiresome. Unless you have something of real value and importance to say, I say, don’t send it.
- When you leave a phone message, speak slowly. Repeat your information, you name, your phone number and the reason for your call. You name, your phone number and the reason for your call.
- Respect other people’s privacy. That may seem like a joke these days but do your best.
- Do not talk on your cell phone in a restaurant or other public place as if it were your private space.
I hope you find these guidelines helpful. Please let me know what you think, agree, disagree, have another or better idea. Hope to hear from you soon. Thanks.
Alison Gilbert is the Digital Age Storyteller. She is a regular contributing author to DBME, writes The Marketing Byte Blog and is The New York Graphic Design Examiner. Alison is the owner of MARKETING BYTES Solutions 4 Local Biz. Located on Long Island, New York, MARKETING BYTES serves clients virtually everywhere.
Their boutique style – very personal service – hybrid company specializes in helping local/small biz generate sales leads by transitioning from traditional advertising to online marketing. Contact MARKETING BYTES at email@example.com or call 516-665-9034 ET
- History of Communication from Cave Drawings to the Web
- Morse Code
- John Perry Barlow
- Treasures in your attic: Telephone table history parallels phone use