Netiquette for squares

Netiquette advice usually focuses on affectations and proscriptions considered vital to your success in the digital village by well-meaning web hipsters. They offer advice like: DON’T USE ALL CAPITAL LETTERS that’s shouting. You will needlessly provoke your readers and they will RESPOND IN KIND, or like an unapologetic capital-boy I know from the great state of Missouri, become the butt of jokes and an object of derision  Do not top-post. In other words, remove the text from the previous email when you hit the reply button unless your response necessitates context. This is a practice that can keep you out of trouble when you gossip. I know of several government officials from my days as an elected official who regretted the habit. If quote you must, keep it to a minimum or risk being labeled a profligate waster of precious bandwidth. Along the lines of saving bandwidth, do use common short cuts like lol (laugh out loud) or btw (by the way) or my personal favorite WTF. Doing so also saves precious bytes of data and identifies you as a member of the cognoscenti. 😉 Do use emoticons like the one preceding this sentence, which is my way of telling you that I’m being (playfully) ironic. Emoticons are a sub-genre of common short cuts used to express nuances of tone. On-line writing is utterly bereft of non-verbal communication cues. Remember people who divide their attention into nanoseconds (millionths of a second) read it. They type faster than you too. Slip up and you’ll find yourself embroiled in a “flame-war” (a cyber-steel-cage death match). Before you know it, the world has suffered yet another catastrophic loss of bonhomie. lol, ;-), rofl, %-), etc.

The on-line world has produced a new sub-culture with its own folkways but ultimately, there are only two substantive differences between analog and electronic communications: the medium upon which the thoughts are recorded and the speed at which the message can be delivered. Beyond that, the same rules apply to both. If you don’t follow the usual rules for writing and civil conversation in the “real world,” you are extremely unlikely to find greater success in the digital village.

Writing on-line: The purpose of written communication is to convey ideas between people and the basic act is media-agnostic. Therefore, the tried and true rules apply. Failing to write clearly and succinctly invites confusion. Failing to respect your readers’ feelings and intelligence creates barriers between your words and your message. Forgetting that once you write it, readers own the meaning,will result in sloppy writing.  If you’re not careful all you end up doing is assembling a collection of words no one will read.

For me, netiquette means thinking about what I’m going to say before I say it. It means giving the same care to electronic communications that I give to something I would submit for publication or to a teacher or a boss. It means keeping it short and sweet. This is all the more so important when you consider the average person spends less than 10 seconds on a web page before hitting the back button. That reminds me of another rule, if you need to write more than three lines in an email, set up a meeting or pick up the phone. That way, there’s no permanent record of the conversation–especially if you’re a bomb thrower like me.

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