I must confess, I rarely text. I can barely even remember that it’s an option on my Blackberry! Most of the time, I pretend it doesn’t exist merely for the fact that I’d much rather have a conversation with a person than type my thoughts or feelings into a piece of technology. Not to mention the fact that we’ve been warned time and again on the trials and tribulations of the oft-written text that can produce unforeseen ramifications. Every day there seems to be another politician, athlete or celebrity who has gotten into one form of trouble or another over a text (or sext) that was sent in haste. It’s not that I have to worry about this (after all as an etiquette instructor I pay extra careful attention to this area), but I’d just rather keep it simple in the event I accidentally slip and say something that I might regret and not wish to have memorialized forever.
While there are a number of written rules and codes of conduct for proper texting that are fairly obvious, I was interested to learn of an emerging phenomenon that was not necessarily on my radar and that is the butler lie. Written about recently in the New York Times, the butler lie “is a term coined by Cornell University researchers in 2009 to describe lies that politely initiate and terminate instant messaging conversations.” You know, those little white lies we make up to provide us with a valid excuse to jump off the phone quickly such as, “Gotta run, my kids are screaming,” “Yikes, I’m late for a meeting,” or “I’m heading into the canyon and about to lose reception.”
The idea is that, years ago we could place blame on the butler who was hired to graciously and judiciously get us out of awkward positions, now we’re forced to use our own social safeguards to do the trick and make us appear sincere when we are really avoiding a potentially sticky situation.
The second issue they mention is that these so called butler lies have become an integral part of texting today because we are constantly reachable and there is virtually no other way to let a person know you are temporarily unavailable without hurting their feelings. But these may not be excusable for long as new technology has allowed people to track when their texts are read by the recipient and tracking applications such as Google Latitude enables users to geographically locate people’s mobile phones. Whether we are able to effectively dodge the occasional butler lie or not, we have to be careful to use these lies sparingly and only in emergencies.
Text messaging, in general, is one of the easiest and most straightforward means of mobile communication, yet it comes with complications as users often abuse certain guidelines for common courtesy. Here is a list of other things to consider when formulating texts.
1. Familiarize yourself with the shorthand lingo. btw (by the way), brb (be right back), lmk (let me know) ttyl (talk to you later), lol (laugh out loud), 2day (today), ur (your), u (you), idk (I don’t know).
2. Watch your tone. As with email, there is no way for recipients to gage how you are feeling and what you are thinking, they only know what they are reading. Take extra measures to ensure your communication is harmless and cannot be misconstrued. When in doubt, it never hurts to throw in a smiley face just to help smooth things over.
3. Monitor your language. Limit the use of slang words and refrain from curse words altogether. With all of the words available in the English language choose to use the ones that make you sound more intelligent.
4. Restrict the use. Text messaging should be reserved for casual communications only such as letting someone know you are late to meet them or to send a quick phone number so they can reach you by phone. Texting should never be used as a tool to avoid confrontation such as the ending of a relationship or as a mechanism to make some grand confession like admitting to your neighbor that you did pick her prize roses to use in a centerpiece for your table.
5. Refrain from texting while in the company of others. Composing a text or answering a text while engaged in face-to-face conversation with others is just as rude as taking a call on your cell phone.
6. Never text while you drive! Oprah spearheaded a major campaign against texting while behind a motor vehicle, local governments passed laws prohibiting it, and some states will fine abusers hundreds of dollars. Whatever you do, do not ignore this rule, beyond the money you will save, you may be saving a life!!
7. Don’t hold your breath. If you do not receive a response to your text, don’t get upset or frustrated. You have no idea what the recipient is doing and if they check their text messages regularly. After a sufficient time has passed, you can always follow up your text with a subsequent message asking if it was received. Or, guess what? You can pick up the phone and call them!
8. Every text is evidence. As with all electronic communications, remember that text messages are permanent and can be traced. This is where users get into the most trouble, especially taking liberties with sexting (the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs electronically.) If you’re going down this dangerous road, think long and hard before pressing the send button.
Did you know that most of these rules apply across the board into all electronic forms from Twitter to email? What is your preferred form of communication? Let us know. We'd love to hear from you!