Texting has become such an integral part of geek culture that it’s hard to believe the technology has been in place for less than 20 years. While theoretically less intrusive than voice phone calls, texting’s insidious nature has made it an etiquette nightmare, especially for the well-connected geek.
The same quiet and (theoretically) ignorable convenience that makes text messaging seem more polite than a phone call is at the heart of the confusion surrounding text protocol. Unlike a verbal call, the short written messages can wait until a convenient (and polite) time to be read and responded to – but more often than not, this ideal convenience is not utilized by those receiving texts.
Most of us have been on the receiving (and possibly the giving) end of the obvious texting faux pas – one minute you’re in the middle of a conversation with someone, the next they’re not only checking their phone screen for a text message, but they’ve begun tapping out a response without so much as a “Excuse me.” Knowing that the texter’s attention is split, if not entirely refocused, we pause in our conversation and wait for the thumb-typist to finish their response. And, unfortunately, no sooner does our conversational partner hit “SEND” than the texter on the other end of the line begins their return response, resulting in an extended text version of table tennis, as the two volley words back and forth across the cellular waves.
While the technology is fairly new (in the grand scheme of things) there still are guidelines for using text politely, which are almost identical to those used when handling incoming phone calls.
The Basic Rule and the Exceptions
The basic rule for texting is simple. If you’re in the middle of a conversation, wait until you’re done (or at least in a temporary lull) to check an incoming text. And, as with a cell call, excuse yourself from the conversation if you are going to respond to it.
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule.
- If the entire conversational group is waiting for information in the form of a text, it’s certainly acceptable to receive and respond to that information while remaining in the conversational circle. Just remember that this is an information transfer, not an additional conversation. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point.
- If you’re expecting an important text for work or family related situations, it’s fine to read an incoming text, but a polite “Excuse me, I’m expecting a text from work/my family” at least acknowledges that you are infringing upon the ongoing conversation, rather than leaving those you were talking with feeling as if you’ve suddenly “checked out” of the conversation for no reason. In this instance, if you’re going to respond to the message, taking a step or two away from the conversation will allow it to go on around you without leaving the rest of the group feeling like they’re intruding upon your texting by continuing to chat.
If you receive a text during a meal, a movie, a religious ceremony or some other situation where you would not normally take a telephone call, you have two choices. Wait until after the situation has ended to check your text, or excuse yourself and leave the area before checking it.
And one final rule – this one is an absolute no-no. NEVER text while driving. Not only is it illegal in many areas, but according to some studies texting behind the wheel impairs your driving ability as much as being under the influence of alcohol does. Lives have been lost due to negligent driving while texting, and there is no message important enough to risk an accident (or worse).
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