Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Manners: They Still Matter in the Digital World

I am a lousy thank-you note writer. I think about sending thank-you notes all the time. I compose them in my head, I imagine the nifty note-cards that are just perfect for the intended recipients and then...I never send them. I feel guilty for never getting them in the mail long after what I imagine to be an acceptable thank-you note window of time. However, I know that thank-you notes are the right thing to do (even if I never get around to it myself).
Thank You spelled with colorful magnetic letters

That brings me to recent articles in Slate and The New York Times. Both propose that we do away with common courtesies used in digital communication because they are time consuming and antiquated. Nick Bilton, a The New York Times columnist and blogger, is frustrated with thank-you's. He believes they are a waste of precious time and resources in the world of digital communication. It was hard to read his opinion, especially a section on never listening to his father's voicemails, without becoming enraged. I hope with all my heart that we are not evolving toward a world in which a thank you is considered rude and ignoring communication from family, because it isn't your preferred method, is acceptable behavior.

According to Matthew Malady of Slate, the email 'sign-off'' is an antiquated waste of time. He thinks the words 'sincerely' or 'best regards' are disingenuous. He doesn't think we should include a greeting either, trusting that email addresses and digital contact lists should take care of any need to identify ourselves in the body of an email. Really? Holly and I actually teach kids to do exactly what he is proposing is a waste of time. We think it is essential in professional communication between students and teachers. Is it a remnant from letter writing? Yes. Does it still matter? Yes. It does.

Let's be honest, when we were kids and the euphoria of receiving presents at birthdays or other holidays was replaced by the dreaded demand that we write thank you notes, our response was probably lacking  enthusiasm. If I'd been allowed to refuse the ritual because it took up too much time, or because I saw Grandma on my birthday and thanked her then, I would never have written thank you notes as an adult. The fact that my mother (and my sisters, and even Vinnie, my 10 month old nephew) continue to model the etiquette of gifting, encourages me to do so (even if I'm generally lousy at it).

In the digital world, if we aren't modeling courtesy with a thank you or properly adding greetings and closures to our digital conversations, we can't expect our children and students to do the same. When I'm told it's time consuming, unnecessary and antiquated, I'll respond that it's polite and courteous and should never be seen as a negative!  I'll also counter with the abundance of examples of misconstrued tone in digital communications. A little common courtesy goes a long way and helps avoid sounding rude, rushed and angry. Just yesterday I was corresponding with an account representative at a major research database vendor. The response to a question I asked consisted of one sentence with no greeting or closure. It felt as if I was being scolded for asking a question to which I should have already known the answer. It felt rude. I'll give the sender the benefit of the doubt, but a few extra moments dedicated to a polite response wouldn't have left me wishing I was working with a different employee.

Holly and I encourage you to join with us in promoting and modeling common courtesy and etiquette  even if it means spending a few extra minutes reading another text, signing our names, listening to voicemail, or even writing thank-you notes. We'll be reminding our students and children to do the same. An argument against politeness isn't valid, despite reasoning that it's a response to the evolving digital world. It's an argument for laziness.

I'll close with an update on my thank-you note record. I'm excited to announce that my birthday thank-you's (created by using my hedgehog stamp birthday gift) are in the mail only 10 days after the birthday in question!

Sam and Holly


  1. Hi Sam and Holly,
    I completely agree with you. I think it is so important to know how to begin and end a letter. I'm not offended when someone does this but tend to be more offended when they don't. How cold and impersonal it would be to not include these important things. I too am the same way with thank you notes. I think of doing them and sometimes I get them done quickly other times I drag my feet. But I'll admit, I'm always happy to receive them, no matter how far after I've given someone a gift. :-) Thanks for sharing!


  2. I just found a thank you note that I wrote to a student (for a lovely holiday gift) in my backpack, which happens to be my traveling office at school. DELIVER IT ALREADY, she says to herself. :)