New-media etiquette

I’m not exactly sure when I turned into a Miss Manners-esque prude, but there I was, sitting on the couch at 11 p.m. on a Thursday, gritting my teeth over an email.

Or rather, the lack of an email.

Earlier in the day, a friend had messaged with a request for a favor. She needed it done the next day, so I responded immediately. I couldn’t help her with the requested task, but I could assist in another way—I’d just need to know as soon as possible if I should rearrange my afternoon to get it done.

I hit “send” and waited for a response.

And waited.

But nothing.

“Maybe she’s really busy, something came up?” my husband theorized as I obsessively checked my email for a reply yet again.

“She’s not,” I sniped. “At least not busy enough to comment on Facebook posts or forward funny YouTube videos.”

Indeed, she wasn’t too busy to reply; she just didn’t see the need once she got her answer, even if my return email had left our conversation open-ended.

Even if her silence left me waiting.

“So just plan your day without her,” my husband said with a shrug.

Easy enough but, as I sat there, fuming over this inconsiderate behavior, it hit me:

While some argue that technology has killed the art of the letter, I’m convinced it’s actually killed the art of conversation.

Although most of us will agree it’s tacky to, say, end a relationship via text, use a forwarded email chain letter to express political beliefs or take to Facebook to trash your boss, we can’t seem to figure out other basics of new media etiquette.

Indeed, we’re part of an evolving social culture—one that seems hell-bent on whittling communication down to the tersest exchange of letters and emoticons.

We’ve long given up on actual phone conversations and voicemail is increasingly seen as more a hassle than a convenience.

Instead, we seem to prefer an endless string of text messages and wall posts and even email is starting to feel archaic and fussy.

And the simple courtesy of replying to a message, it seems, is entirely optional.

While there aren’t any hard-and-fast statistics that speak to this erosion of courtesy, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence.

Take the co-worker who never, ever responds to an email unless I’ve screwed something up. Or the family member who ignores all communication only to act surprised when I ask if she got my message (“Yeah—why?”).

Then, of course, there is the friend who needs a favor but can’t return with courtesy. I have one acquaintance, for example, who asked me to send her detailed instructions on a particular task. I spent an hour composing a lengthy email to which she replied with a brief text: “Thanks!”

I’m still trying to figure out why it was easier to text instead of replying via email, but at least she showed some good manners.

On more than one occasion I’ve received an email plea for a favor—a letter of recommendation, a list of possible sources for a story, advice on a project—and on each occasion I’ve spent a considerable amount of time devoted to that request.

And, on many of these occasions—more than I can count—my response went unacknowledged.

No “thank you,” no “OK,” not even a simple :).

Just a deafening, virtual silence.

It’s really not that difficult, people. Hit “reply,” type “Thanks” and hit “send.” Confirm an appointment, answer a question or simply tell someone you don’t have the time to help. It will take 30 seconds, maximum, and you’ll still have ample time to repost the latest viral video.

Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but at least it’s not rude.