Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Netiquette: How to speak to your online friends and your GPS

Today's Miss Manners has two letters of interest: the first is from a person interested in IMing etiquette; the second is from a person who uses a GPS instead of people's directions.

The IMing letter-writer asks:
Dear Miss Manners:

When one signs onto any form of instant messaging and notices via one's contact list that someone else is already online, who has the ultimate responsibility to take notice? The person signing on or the person already there?

I take daily comfort from noticing that my brother must be alive and reasonably well as he is online, but he has never, ever, initiated a chat with me by something as simple as "Hi, sis, how are you?" I get stubborn and decide to wait, and after months, I will break down and initiate a chat with him. He almost always responds and we chat for a bit, exchange pics, news, etc. Then, months later, I break down and do it again.

Am I unreasonable to want him to evince an interest in me?

Also, what about friends who never reply when I initiate a chat? "Hi, how are you?" Nothing. And, then, there is the friend who almost always "hides" that she is online. If I send an offline message, she usually signs in and we chat.
Miss Manners replies:
Try picturing these people at their computers.

They're working, aren't they?

Well, that's what they claim. As you and Miss Manners suspect, some of them are playing games, some of them are shopping, and some of them are opening their little hearts to strangers.

But at any rate, they are all busy at something, and you are dropping in unannounced, so to speak.

True, the existence of this system invites one to do this, which is why Miss Manners finds it objectionable. Why can't you just take a chance that your friends will answer your offline messages when they are free? Or get in touch with them by other means?

In any case, Miss Manners does think it unreasonable to consider that failing to be ready to drop everything and chat at any time is an indication of callousness.

Lulu: Miss Manners definitely has a valid point that people who are on IM are also doing other things and you shouldn't take it personally when they don't initiate a conversation or don't always respond. However, I have also thought about the question of who has the responsibility to say "hi", the person signing on or the person already online, and I have an answer: clearly, it is the person signing on.

Ashley: Of course! When you sign on, you're looking at the other people online. But you don't keep looking for the entire length of time that you're signed on!

Lulu: And you don't necessarily get notifications about who is signing off and on. Even if you did, you might be in the middle of something, and not notice it, or notice it but not necessarily want to initiate a conversation.

Ashley: You certainly don't have to initiate a conversation with everyone who's online, or as soon as they sign on.

Lulu: Signing onto IM is not like going to a party, where you are rude if you don't say hi to everyone who is there.

Ashley: If I always got a ton of hellos with no content forthcoming, I would be very confused.

Lulu: Now, Miss Manners does also say that she finds IM objectionable, and that part I don't agree with. First of all, it's weird to find a certain piece of technology objectionable. Everything is optional! If you don't like to use it, don't use it.

Ashley: It's weird to apply certain rules to certain technologies; etiquette evolves with new technology, and it's okay to have different IMing etiquette than phone/in person/whatever.

Lulu: I do think there is definite IM etiquette and it's disconcerting when people violate it. I guess there are not a lot of means of communication where it's okay to just ignore the other person, which is maybe why she finds it weird?

Ashley: Yeah, IMing is a cross between talking and leaving a message, so it's got elements of both. You can talk if it turns out the person is around, but you don't get offended if it turns out you're just leaving a message.

Lulu: That's exactly it. It's not like dropping by unannounced and expecting the other person to drop everything and talk, not if you understand the rules. The rule is, they don't have to drop everything, or even be there! If anything, I guess it's like leaving your card with the butler?

Ashley: People who "hide" are more the leave-a-message types; others always reply but never initiate conversations; and others start conversations. All of them are using the leave a message ability to a certain (different) degree.

Lulu: Just because someone never initiates a conversation with you doesn't mean they don't want to talk or wouldn't, if you started a conversation. It just means they never have a conversation starter... or they are always online and doing other things and not paying attention to who comes and goes. Just be chill, I guess, is the general rule.

So our advice for the LW is: treat IMing like a voicemail message (i.e. speak if you have something to say, don't be offended if you don't get an immediate response), and then you can be pleasantly surprised if people respond immediately or start up a conversation with you on their own.

The GPS letter is in the same post:
...Now it has happened on several occasions, and with different passengers, that while the final destination may be unfamiliar, during some portion of the route, such as getting out of the city or passing through a nearby community, the passenger has argued with the GPS navigator by calling it stupid, asking me why I bought it in the first place, or telling me to throw it out the window.

One person actually sulked for an hour because I took the GPS directions instead of his. Another person told me he would rather get lost than rely on a silly box with a simulated voice.

If I am a passenger in someone else's car, I don't give directions unless I am asked. I feel that most drivers have their favorite ways to travel, and it is not up to me to question their decisions. I would like to know how to respond to people who develop adversarial relationships with my GPS navigator.
Miss Manners responds:
No etiquette query has yet come to Miss Manners from the GPS lady herself, but with the number of people who love or hate her, it's probably only a matter of time. All that cursing and courting she must endure, while only trying to do her job, must be hard to bear.

As captain of the vehicle, it is your duty to defend her. Miss Manners suggests a gentle: "Please don't be too rough on her. She's had a difficult day. We'll humor her and let her have her way."
Lulu: I like that. That's adorable.
Ashley: Yeees. I do talk to the gps: "Are you sure?"; "Ooh thank you!";  "You said right ahead not right right now! wauuuugh!"


Ashley: It's weird because it talks. I like "recalculating" whenever you do something different. It's so judgmental. Especially because the recalculation is usually to do a u-turn.

Lulu: It's totally judgmental. I'm going to start doing that, when people do something I don't like.

Ashley: So you could say, "We should go to the store and then to your house." And when the other person disagrees and starts going home, and you say, "Turn right here. Turn right here. Turn right HERE."

Lulu:  "Hey, know what we should do next? Turn right here."

Ashley: "Turn this ship around!"

Lulu: Ship?

Ashley: I dunno. I like boats. Is that enough for the column? I want to get some sushi.

Lulu: Recalculating.

In conclusion, some people don't know their IMing etiquette, but we certainly don't know our GPS etiquette.


  1. You should never take advice from somebody who refers to themselves in the third person consistently, even if it is Miss "The Rock" Manners.

    Because IMtiquette doesn't actually exist yet as any sort of common knowledge, your first few online interactions with a person quickly become the understood behavior. If the first poster initiated early conversations with her brother, she is now and forever the conversation initiator - unless she decides to have a very silly conversation with him in person on the topic.

    Her plan is also fundamentally flawed in that there is no way to know if somebody online is purposefully shunning you. The silent treatment is a risky road at the best of times, but at least in person it can become obvious that somebody is not talking to you.

    To the second post... man, I don't know. If you have friends who sulk because you don't listen to their directions you should probably get some better friends. On the other hand, if your GPS steers you wrong, they are absolutely allowed to gloat for the remainder of the trip.

  2. oh man, this is one of those posts (IM etiquette) where the person who wrote that letter is so not getting the real issue, and it seems like Miss Manners also missed it!

    when this woman engages someone in a conversation, it goes on forever. it is impossible to get her to go away. so people have learned not to engage. that is my theory!

    i have the same exact problem with my mother, who i am not against speaking to in theory, and who initiates almost every one of our conversations, which i avoid like they were my own death.