Good Digital Parenting
Blog | May 3, 2019

“Please” vs. “Now” Manners in the Digital Age

“What do you say,” I ask my children when they want more milk, more potatoes, or for me to grab their favorite shirt from the laundry room.  “Please,” is the obvious answer, but in our house, “Now,” is the long-running family joke—started by my baby brother, Charlie, two decades ago. 

“What do you say,” my mother would ask when he held his empty glass in the air or pointed to an empty plate of spaghetti.  “Now,” he would tell her, and she would belly laugh all the way to the refrigerator.  As the youngest of four children, Charlie got away with more than he should have and certainly with more than I, or my other two brothers, did.  

Think what you will about my brother’s “manners” or my mother’s sense of humor, but if you text from your smartphone, it is likely you, too, are following in my brother’s footsteps.  

“I’m at the grocery store.  Can you send me your recipe for white chicken chili?”

“Running late.  Can you grab the kids?”

“What field is the game on?”

Whether we realize it or not, when we send someone a time-sensitive or action-required text like the ones above, the unspoken expectation is that we receive an immediate, or near immediate, response.  We may be inferring “please”, but what we are really saying is, “Now.”  We wouldn’t let our children get away with saying, “Now,” so why have we come to accept it as standard protocol amongst ourselves?  

The universal expectation that has evolved over time that our phones never be out of arm’s reach and the accompanying expectation we will respond immediately, or almost immediately, to every notification we receive is preposterous.  Not only does it drive the intrinsic fear people have of stepping away from their phones, it is disrespectful.  Expecting an immediate, or near immediate, response from someone assumes they are either not involved in another activity or should stop what they are doing to respond if they are.  This is a disruptive and destructive way to live, and it has got to stop.  

In order to recharge, we MUST unplug.  In order to unplug, we need the peace of mind to know we will not miss an action-required or time-sensitive message.  To reduce the number of action-required or time-sensitive messages we receive, we must develop a set of universally accepted etiquette rules for how and when we communicate and how and when we are expected to respond.  Embracing these would allow us to put our phones down more often and more fully engage in the people, places, and things that matter to us most.

Here are several ways to combat the universal expectation for immediacy with text messaging:

  • Nothing time-sensitive or action-required should be sent via text.  While there are times when a text is more conducive to a situation, we often text out of habit when a phone call would be more efficient.
  • Anything requiring immediate attention should be granted a phone call. This single, two-way exchange could convey all pertinent information both parties need, even if either caller has to leave a voicemail. 
  • If a text is going to require several additional messages to remediate, it should be handled with a phone call. This saves time and eliminates the inefficiency of back and forth texting. 
  • Group messages meant to inform should end in “NRN” (No Response Needed.)  This would allow the dissemination of information to a group without the onslaught of emoji pings that typically follow a group message.
  • We should ask the following questions before sending a text:
  1. Is the message action required?  
  2. Will the message require a slew of follow-up messages?  
  3. Could the message be handled more efficiently with a phone call? 
  4. Pertaining to group messages, could the information be better sent by email, thereby reducing the onslaught of pings that typically follow a group text message? 

The goal is not to eradicate text messaging, but to make it more efficient and less disruptive, so we feel less anxious about putting the phone down.  To recharge, we have to unplug.  Embracing a universally accepted set of etiquette guidelines is the first step. 

Haley Evans is a working mom of three who is fed up with the smartphone ruling her life. Her new book, Hung Up: Why You Should Put the Phone Down (and Other Life Advice) offers tips and tools to combat cell phone addiction without resorting to drastic “digital detox” methods. Learn more and sign Haley’s petition to Apple for a Personal “Do Not Disturb” option at www.TheBigHangUp.com.