Thursday, September 13, 2012

Manners and SMS...new guidelines required?


This morning The West Australian newspaper published an article about Notre Dame University fighting the spread of "digital stress"by urging staff to switch off their email for one morning a week and talk to each other instead. The Chancellor was quoted as saying that apart from being distracting and time-consuming, emails had a higher likelihood of being misinterpreted because they were not accompanied by eye contact, body language or facial communication.

The term "digital stress"has been coined to refer to information overload caused by too much multi-tasking on digital devices. 

The article resonated with me because I have had a interesting week presenting The Percy Institute's Strive for Corporate Success program to an international humanitarian organisation, and also a top tier legal firm. My program content is tailored for each client but there are a number of areas of interest which are common to two such diversified organisations.


When the topic of mobile telephone etiquette was presented  I was surprised by the reaction of the participants to the questions raised about the manners involved in SMS texting...when it should used, when it is not appropriate, when actually voice communication is more important that written electronic communication, including email.


The participants for the programs ranged in age from 21 to approximately mid 50s. They all agreed that SMS is being overused, used in incorrect circumstances (including between people who sit in cubicles next to each other!) and at times when it is easier to avoid the difficulties which may arise with face to face communication such as the breaking up of relationships.

I have also had an experience in the last 24 hours where an important text message being sent from the other side of the world had gone "missing" in cyberspace.  What are the manners for explaining the lost message and the response from the person waiting for it?

Inevitably there is disappointment that the message has not been received in the time in which it was composed.  And disappointment that an expected message has not appeared. 

We have become increasingly reliant in this electronic age on the word rather than the voice, and for all its faults, SMS is a wonderful tool for communication.

And how did I know that the SMS has been sent?  Because I subsequently spoke to the sender and then the service provider I use.  The sender read me the text which had been sent and the service provider remedied the error at my end.





But the thought persisted with me that the most appropriate form of communication remains the personal, vocal one where even if the eye contact is not possible, the tone of voice conveys as much as the message it imparts.

If this is old fashioned manners, then so be it.  Let's talk to each other and not just rely on SMS and email.  We have other electronic options, such as Skype,  and nothing is nicer than a smile and a familiar voice.


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