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Mind Your Manners: Texting: The good, the bad and the ugly

By Pam Harvit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Is texting rude? No, but when and where you text could be. Following is the good, the bad, and the ugly of this modern convenience.

The good

Last week, my friend Debbie and I were discussing the pros and cons of texting. I like that I can text someone to find a mutually good time to talk live, instead of picking up the phone and perhaps interrupting them while they are busy. I appreciate that there is usually not an urgency to respond immediately to a text like there is with a ringing phone.

Debbie likes texting because she can use it as a touch point to easily reach many friends and colleagues. "I love the fact that texting affords me the ability to connect with a lot of people at once."

As far as business goes, we haven't reached the tip of the iceberg as to what texting can and will do to enhance connections. It is efficient, succinct and, like email, provides instant documentation of a communication.

The bad

In his column headlined "Keep Your Thumbs Still When I'm Talking to You," David Carr of The New York Times wrote: "You are at a party and the person in front of you is not really listening to you. Yes, she is murmuring occasional assent to your remarks, or nodding at appropriate junctures, but for the most part she is looking beyond you, scanning in search of something or someone more compelling.

"Here's the funny part: If she is looking over your shoulder at a room full of potentially more interesting people, she is ill-mannered. If, however, she is not looking over your shoulder, but into a smartphone in her hand, she is not only well within modern social norms, but is also a wired, well-put-together person. Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude."

Fashionable? Being rude is by no means fashionable, and boorish behavior is never "in style."

While texting is quickly becoming the "norm," some worry that it may be affecting fundamental courtesies and communication skills. They feel that constant texting erodes one's ability to have a face-to-face conversation and that many hide behind their device to avoid direct confrontation. In other words, they create an electronic barrier around themselves so that they can avoid others.

At a restaurant recently, my husband and I noticed two adults and their two children typing away on their phones throughout dinner. There was no conversation or eye contact between them. It was bizarre to watch. I asked the waitress if that happens often, and she replied that it was the norm. The norm? While I'm all for technology, I'm also for teaching children conversation skills, eye contact and the importance of learning nonverbal cues and nuances that are so important in communication. This can only happen if we take time to talk with them face to face, and not through some mechanical device.

The ugly

Carr's column mentioned Anthony De Rosa, a product manager and programmer at Reuters. De Rosa said that mobile connectedness has eroded fundamental courtesies. He is fine with people stepping aside to check something but "when I'm standing in front of someone and in the middle of my conversation they whip out their phone, I'll just stop talking to them and walk away. If they're going to be rude, I'll be rude right back."

De Rosa is not alone. I receive many emails from readers complaining of rude texters. One reader wrote, "I was shocked recently while attending a 'Mountain Stage' concert. As soon as the lights went low for the start of the show, the people on both sides of me pulled out their phones and started texting. It was horribly distracting. The constant tapping of their fingers along with the light of the phone's screen was hugely annoying. I was shocked that they couldn't care less about the concert. Since neither looked up to see the performance, why did they even bother purchasing a ticket?"

One physician wrote about the gall of her patient's texting during exams. "I am a physician and, at least a half-dozen times a day, patients will pull out their phones and either text or talk on them in the middle of an exam. These patients have no clue they are being rude. Please let people know that the exam room is no place for the cellphone!"

The constant need to text may even hinder one's ability to network. While attending a conference recently, I observed that any time there was a break between speakers, everyone was walking around with their heads down watching their thumbs move feverishly over the tiny keyboard of their phones. There was no eye contact, no handshakes, no small talk or conversation between participants. In fact, it was eerily silent. In the past, breaks were a great time to meet new people, exchange ideas and network; however, very few were taking the opportunity of trying to connect live to others.

Texting can be dangerous as well. We have all heard of what can happen when texting while driving, but walking and texting can be dangerous too. There have been many reports of people falling into manholes, fountains, bumping into people and even walking into traffic.

So what to do? Mind your manners!

n Do not check or compose messages while you are face to face with someone. It is as rude as having a personal phone conversation with them standing there.

n Do not text (or check messages) while attending a meeting. You may think that you are being inconspicuous, but you're not.

n Consider when you are texting someone. It would be rude to call someone in the middle of a concert, a movie or any other performance, so sending a text at this time is rude as well.

n Use texting as a way to reduce the imposition of a phone call by finding a time that may be more convenient to talk.

n If you would rather someone reach you via text, then be sure to communicate this on your voicemail message.

n Just as you should not drive while texting, you should also avoid walking while texting as well. For obvious reasons, this can be dangerous to you and those around you.

n If you are trying to talk with someone who will not stop texting, then simply excuse yourself.

So, is texting rude? No, technology is neutral; people who text without regard for others are rude. Make sure that you are not one of them.

If you have a story of a rude texting incident, send your example to share anonymously in a future article to pharvit@suddenlink.net. Pam Harvit, M.S., is a certified corporate etiquette and protocol consultant. She is employed by Merck and Co. and lives in Charleston. She may be emailed at pharvit@suddenlink.net.


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