I have long been a fan of the Dear Abby column. It's not because I think her advice every time is spot on (though it mostly is) or that her folksy, home-grown wisdom is adorable (though it totally is). I mainly like it because I imagine her consternation when reading some of the more over-the-top letters that get reprinted. I picture her slapping the faces of the rude a-holes who send her letters filled with nonsense.
Today I have some advice for those in the New York Times column about etiquette in the digital age: You're being jackasses.
The story is essentially a list of complaints about niceties that, instead of being polite in today's world of technology, end up being a waste of time and an annoyance. For example, sending a "thank you" e-mail or leaving someone a voice mail. Even asking open-ended questions via text is a problem for those quoted in the story.
Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says "Thank you"? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don't answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?
Don't these people realize that they're wasting your time?
Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life's little courtesies. But many social norms just don't make sense to people drowning in digital communication.
This is how the author begins the story. He continues thus:
My father learned this lesson last year after leaving me a dozen voice mail messages, none of which I listened to. Exasperated, he called my sister to complain that I never returned his calls. "Why are you leaving him voice mails?" my sister asked. "No one listens to voice mail anymore. Just text him."
My mother realized this long ago. Now we communicate mostly through Twitter.
You know, I really don't even know where to begin with this. Let me just start by saying that if your life is too fucking busy to answer YOUR FATHER'S voice mails, then you might need to take a yoga class or go to a meditation retreat or something. It would be one thing if some person you didn't like kept leaving you two-minute messages. But this is your dad!
My father used to leave me long voice mails asking for help with his computer. I would occasionally roll my eyes, probably much the way you do now. Then, when he passed away in 2008, I kept thinking to myself, "I would KILL for him to leave me an annoying voice mail." It's all about perspective.
And, by the way, how freaking difficult is your existence that you can't just look at the message notation on your phone and hit delete. Oh, YES, that is INSANELY TOUGH. What a workout! Your finger must be sprained from all the pushing.
But there's more...
I once asked a friend something easily discovered on the Internet, and he responded with a link to lmgtfy.com, which stands for Let Me Google That For You.
In the age of the smartphone, there is no reason to ask once-acceptable questions: the weather forecast, a business phone number, a store's hours. But some people still do. And when you answer them, they respond with a thank-you e-mail.
Let me simplify this for you: Your friend is a dick. Just answer a simple question and be glad someone is attempting to interact with you at all. It's a miracle considering the fact you probably roll your eyes and point to your ironic LMGTFY T-shirt when some jackass dares to ask you the time.
If someone wants to know what the weather is, you can politely say you don't know or, if you do, be a normal human being and answer him. I would hope that if some guy asked you that in person and you responded with, "Oh, my GOD, can't you just look at your phone? Who do I look like, Al Roker?" he would simply chuckle and punch you in the face.
My favorite part didn't come from the author, however.
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"I have decreasing amounts of tolerance for unnecessary communication because it is a burden and a cost," said Baratunde Thurston, co-founder of Cultivated Wit, a comedic creative company. "It's almost too easy to not think before we express ourselves because expression is so cheap, yet it often costs the receiver more."
Mr. Thurston said he encountered another kind of irksome communication when a friend asked, by text message, about his schedule for the South by Southwest festival. "I don't even know how to respond to that," he said. "The answer would be so long. There's no way I'm going to type out my schedule in a text."
He said people often asked him on social media where to buy his book, rather than simply Googling the question. You're already on a computer, he exclaimed. "You're on the thing that has the answer to the thing you want to know!"
Burden? Are you sure you want to go with that word, Mr. Thurston? Hauling water ten miles in a Third-World country so your family won't die of thirst is a burden. Working three jobs so your kids can eat is a burden. I'm pretty sure that answering a question about SXSW is not a burden. That's more like the most wonderful thing you could possibly do on any day of the week for like 95 percent of the world's population.
Oh, and answering a question about your book on social media is not a burden, Baratunde. That's actually referred to as "customer service."