Are good manners extinct on the electronic frontier?
Do you always say “please” when you make a request of someone?
Do you always say “thank you” when someone does you a favor?
Do you always get the same courtesy by default in return?
I always say “please” and “thank you” but many of the people I deal with during the day — both professionally and socially — rarely say please and hardly ever say “thank you” and I’m curious when, why, and how that simple measure of courtesy died.
I recently read somewhere that in the text world:

The person with the “least” power must always make the last reply in a conversation be it in email or live text chat.


That quote was centered on the frame of the professor/student
relationship where a professor told her class how to behave when it
comes to courtesy in the virtual prairie. The professor went on to tell
her class that if you ask her a favor in email it is the student’s
responsibility to thank her as the last message in the communication
chain because the student has “less power” than the professor.

Do you
agree the person with the least power in a dyad — the employee in the
employee/boss relationship; the child in the child/parent relationship;
the student in the student/professor relationship — is required to end
the electronic conversation or not?
How do we deal with relationships where the perception of power is
variable and transient? How is the Least-Powerful-Replies-Last rule
negotiated between peers or friends when there isn’t a clear power
hierarchy to respect? Who has the last word? Who is required to provide
the last word?
I’m sure you’ve been stuck in mobius strip email conversations with
back-to-back-to-back-and-back thanking and promising to be in touch
again soon. When does an email conversation end? Who decides?

The one
who doesn’t reply back? Is that a power play to not reply back?
I find email generally unreliable and suspicious with the hard rise of
Spam and Spoofing so I’m happy to end any and all email conversations
no matter what role I play in the power dyad because email is
notoriously unreliable and being absolutely clear is always my
preference to being perceived as “powerful.” 93% of communication is
reading physical cues so when we go “text only” we are limiting the
available information at hand for fully understanding the other person.

When we go text-only we are forced to comprehend each other at 7% of
information normally available in person. A phone conversation provides
only 15% of all the communication cues found in an in-person
conversation. I have been burned by students and friends who request
the world of you — and after you provide for their needs and grant
their wishes — you never hear from them again. I miss the “thank you”
even more when there isn’t an accompanying “please” embedded in the
initial request. Am I being old fashioned and quaint in my expectation
of basic manners in the electronic information age where everything is
ether and nothing has the courtesy of hardcopy meaning any longer?
If so, please tell me.
I promise to thank you.

32 Comments

  1. Good Morning David. Yes, you are being old fashioned because so many of this current “GIMME” generation were never taught proper manners. Courtesy is gone (just drive down a major street) Email contains no emotion and even saying please and thank you are meaningless words to the younger folks. We meet their expectations by “giving” them what thte want (read: EXPECT) and they have never been held to proper manners. Respect, not there anymore, Courtesy, only among our generation. Yes, I blame the electronics evolution for all of it. For those who weren’t around in the fifties, we didn’t have television, not much radio, no electronic games either computer based or hand helds. We had family time,we talked to each other, as children we created forts, bike ramps, played outside until dinner (and came when Mom called). Now the kids sit and watch TV or play vid games and eat Twinkies and get fat, lazy and anti-social. Sorry, I guess you hit a nerve. Thank you for the oppotunity to speak (write)

  2. Hi Rich!
    Wow! Thanks for a superb message that unfortunately and presciently confirms all my suspicions and disappointments about where we are and where we’re going.
    If crass is the method of interaction of the day for the younger generation — and if each generation becomes less and less kind and friendly and respectful — where will we be in two more generations?
    How much lower can we sink?
    Will “F-U” be the new “Thank You” and “Hand it over, Mo-Fo” becomes the new “please” — or are we already there?

  3. Perhaps “The Jetson’s” was not as far fetched as we thought? Vid Conferencing would add emotion back into a conversation as you would “see” the person when they are verbally flipping you off, LOL. I actually got a nod and a thank you for holding a door for someone this week, of course she was NOT younger than 40 years old! That’s how I was raised, Good old Midwest standards.

  4. Dave —
    Yes, there is a gestational generational problem when it comes down to the incubation of good deeds and fine manners in today’s crop of children and if we don’t point to the parents then we point to the ongoing lack of self-renewal and sole responsibility for bad behavior.
    SuperAgent Matt Wagner has a whiteboard stuck on his refrigerator at home and it is divided in half. One side said “Cool” the other side says “Not Cool” and everyday the list of good deeds and bad things are updated and discussed with his children. There was a time when Right and Wrong and Good and Bad were learned at the end of a whipping switch and a belt buckle but if the metaphor today has changed to a whiteboard on a fridge – great! – just as long as the lessons are being taught and caught.
    Grandparents were made for spoiling not for teaching — so they’re on the map but off the clock.
    Electronic banking is convenient but scary. Money is now only a number and not a thing you can hold in your hand. A balance sheet won’t buy you a burger but a dollar bill will. If terrorism moves into the electronic realm – and it will — and CPUs and databases are compromised in the attack — how will we ever prove our bank balance or our overall net worth again? We place too much faith in virtual technology and not enough in the gold bricks stuffed under our grandparents’ mattress.
    THANK YOU!

  5. Hi Rich —
    I, too, was raised in the Midwest and we were taught to hold doors open — FOR EITHER SEX — if we reached the door first. You also follow the woman when being seated in a restaurant so you can hold her chair as she sits.
    I’m glad you keep your value set intact despite the bad manners all around you and I thank you for making that clear here. I think going video and then holographic communication might begin to heal the nameless and anonymous rift we find enrapturing our current world.

  6. Dave —
    The world is moving virtual and as time and space compresses so does our opportunity to spend personal time in person with each other. It is a verifiable loss in the advance of our nation and I don’t see it getting better any time soon.
    The lack of personal responsibility for actions, I believe, can be tethered and traced back to anonymous email and anonymous web and blog posting. If people were required by law and licensing to be who they really are with their verifiable names and IDs and locations attached — the world would instantly be a better and more responsible place. We would be kinder. We would own our words and our actions and our behaviours and we would be on point to answer for our misdeeds and as well as accepting our rightful thanks.
    Anonymity is the death of democracy and human intimacy.
    Thank you.

  7. I agree with a lot of what has already been said. Miss Manners is worthless in our society today, because most folks just don’t care about manners anymore. Well, let me clarify that. Most folks don’t want to extend manners to anyone, but are plenty content to gripe and complain when someone isn’t courteous to them.
    As far as the person with “less power” having to end the conversation? It depends on who started the conversation, what the conversation was about, and whether or not a separate reply is needed. If I email a professor with a question and she replies, then yes, it would be courteous for me to reply with a “Thank you.” But that has nothing to do with who has more or less power. It’s a simple courtesy. If she emailed me first asking me a question, then I would expect a thank you from her. So, then, should I reply with a thank you to her thank you just because I have less power?
    I think not.

  8. Once in awhile Elizabeth will call a friend of hers who lives with her parents. When the person picks up the phone she asks, “Is (name) there?” I asked why she doesn’t, instead, say “Good evening. May I speak with (name)?” She told me it sounds pretentious.
    To me, it sounds polite.

  9. Hey Gordon!
    I agree with you! I’ll take your polite way any day.
    I was raised to answer the phone, “Boles residence” instead of “Hello.” People back then made fun of me for that courtesy and that’s when the world was a safer place.
    There are some who might say it is better and safer to answer “Hello” now instead of providing, by default, a generic response.
    I used to answer my cell phone with “This is Dave” until the other party on all my calls would just start talking without identifying who they were.
    Now if they just start talking I say, “Who’s calling?” even if I have an idea of who it is — but why assume when you can ask and know? Knowing by courtesy first is always the best way to behave but that’s a rarity — an oddity — today.

  10. Curiously enough, despite all of the various things I feel the president has blundered in during his term, I would be willing to wager a large amount of money that he is an exceedingly polite person and always says thank you as appropriate.

  11. Wow, I’m commenting on two posts in a row lol. I’m getting good at this!
    Right, straight into it. When I lived in the UK, manners were a thing that nobody seems to care about, along with simple courtesy, and as a result, Please and Thankyou was one thing that was never really said, unless I was trying to squeeze a favour out of someone (Yes, I know, that makes me sound really shallow), but when I moved out to Canada it all changed.
    People said Please and Thankyou for every little thing, and as a result, it rubbed off on me. Now I say Please and Thankyou when I use the Phone, when someone holds a door open for me, when someone offers to do something for me etc etc.
    Being in Canada is so different to the UK anyway, I found that walking into a store in the UK, the Cashiers wouldn’t really talk to you unless it was to tell you how much you owed them for Purchases, out here in Canada, you walk in, and the first thing they do is smile, and say “Hi, how are you?” followed closely by “Can we help you with anything today?” and I LOVE that. It makes the whole experience of shopping so much better. You get a sense that they really want to help you just by using common courtesy.
    I keep in touch with my family via Phone, and my friends via the Internet, (email and MSN Messenger) and both my family and friends have remarked on how I’ve changed. My sister went so far as to tell me I sound American but we won’t go there – she also said she couldn’t believe how different I was, she said she never thought she’d hear me sound so polite and well mannered.
    My friends have also told me I’ve changed. If I ask something of them, I’m always sure to say Please, and if they say yes, I make doubly sure I say Thankyou. I keep in touch with our Wedding Co-Ordinator via email, and I’ve found especially that Please and Thankyou go a very long way with her.
    As for younger people nowadays – they don’t even know what manners are. But you know what? I blame the Parents. If a child isn’t brought up to use good manners and/or common courtesy, then how can we expect them to use them? I personally believe that Good Manners should be instilled in a child at a very young age. My daughter was taught to say please and thankyou by the time she was four. I know it can be done! Sadly, some parents just don’t care.

  12. Excellent comment, Dawn, thank you!
    I agree Canada and Canadians are polite and they bubble with good manners. I love spending time in Toronto. It is a clean city and the people there remind me of growing up in Nebraska several decades ago when life was simple and good and golden.

  13. I went to court today in a “collar county” of Cook Co. where the pace is a little slower than that in the “big city.”
    A gentleman held the door open for me, then proceeded to insult everyone in the building for being a bunch of expletives deleted as he approached security officers at their magnetometers.
    I, of course, thanked him for holding open the door and waited for him to approach one of two security check points while I went to the other away from him since he might have been a security threat or mentally unstable.
    It was a mixed encounter in terms of politeness.
    There was civility aimed at me by the gentleman in his holding the door open as I approached, but a complete lack of civility while he aimed venim at no one and everyone in general by spewing out his statements about the people in the courthouse.

  14. Chris!
    Your story made me laugh! You tell what happened with such a good heart and with just the right ironic touches that the incident is given a new life in a strange and delightful manner on the human level.
    We are our contradictions.
    Our contradictions are our conflicts.
    Our conflicts lead to irrevocable change.

  15. David, have you ever spent time in Vancouver?
    I personally am not fond of Toronto. The traffic and pollution is rather bad there – although I do have to say that Toronto is a very big City in a small space.
    Vancouver is spread over a wider area and is cleaner, quieter, and above all less busy. We are situated right on the Coast, so of course we have views of the Mountains AND the Ocean that can’t be matched anywhere else 🙂
    I guess I could be biased lol, because I’m not a city girl, never have been, and never will be. I love the open air, and the Mountains, not to mention the Ocean. I just have to persuade my partner to lay on the beach with me for more than an hour without him complaining that he’s bored.
    But yes, I’ve also found that People in Vancouver are Polite and happy to help in any way they can. If someone treats you with respect and good manners, then it makes your day just a little brighter.

  16. Hi Dawn —
    I have never been to Vancouver. I will have to visit one day.
    Toronto, compared to New York City, is a haven of freshness and quiet.
    :mrgreen:
    I do love the mountains and trees and wide-open spaces.
    I agree being treated well and treating others well makes for a glimmering day!

  17. Surely.
    I sent it from gdavides @ yahoo and now from gordond @ gmail – to your g-mail and your goinside e-mail.
    I kinda miss having a goinside e-mail address. I haven’t gotten a single e-mail meant for there forwarded to me.

  18. What are you talking about?? Toronto is a much bigger city and is sprawled across a MUCH MUCH bigger area than Vancouver. In fact that is one of the reasons housing prices in Vancouver are so insane because there are natural limitations to new housing development because of the Ocean, Mountains, and American border. Toronto just keeps going and going. Haven’t you ever driven down the 401 or have you just been ‘downtown’?
    😛

  19. True that Vancouver is cleaner and much nicer 🙂 but they are fortunate that there isn’t a heavy manufacturing base such as they have in Southern Ontario AND they have a natural pollution sucking machine that the Pacific Ocean is. Lake Ontario just doesn’t compete to the natural refreshing power of the deep ocean.

  20. Thanks for re-sending, Gordon. I don’t think .ZIP files are accepted any longer through my Spam Trap provider. Did you get a bounce back error message? I have your article on my Gmail account so that should do us.
    Hmm… I have no idea why your GOINSIDE email address is not getting forwarded! I’ll have to check into it. I know it was rough – for me and you! — to lose the email address but all our email addresses across all domains are now hosted at mailstreet.com and we have to pay $10 PER EMAIL ADDRESS a month for Exchange hosting there… I thought a forward would work… Hmm….

  21. Hmph! Should’ve had a bounce-back. Curious, that!
    The email change has to do with needing to use the BlackBerry 4.1 BES server on the road. There are no free options for a BES server.
    I hope to have your article online sometime Monday or before. I’m on a deadline over the weekend.