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The fading away of etiquette

Do you know what etiquette is? The dictionary says its a code of behavior that defines expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class or group.

What does that mean? It means that etiquette is all about doing the right thing the right way at the right time, with class.

But based upon that description, and with our contemporary morals having so long ago been thrown out the window, I think etiquette was probably thrown out too, kind of like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

At any rate, nowhere is etiquette less factored in than when we send out text messages, something that has never had a code of conduct; except for one law and some advice about not doing it while you're driving, showering, flipping pizza dough or sending messages to another girl while on your honeymoon; which is basic logic.

Of course, etiquette itself is not a new thing. The French word first appeared in English around 1750 and Ptahhotep, the ancient Egyptian city administrator and vizier wrote "The Maxims of Ptahhotep," suggestions for how to act, in about 2300 B.C., just before Joe Biden was born.

Confucius, the famous Chinese teacher, took a crack at etiquette around 550 BC. But the dude who really made it popular was Louis XIV of France who used entertainment, ceremony and a highly codified system of etiquette to assert his supremacy over nobility and impress foreign dignitaries.

Ultimately the rules of etiquette are supposed to guide social interaction and reflect a person's ethical code, fashion sense and status. Which is why, since it too is a social interaction, text messaging should also maintain a level of basic etiquette and if it doesn't, then even sensible people can be made to look like rude and thoughtless bumblers.

When I was a kid, my grandfather, who was even older than Joe Biden, never did catch on to the proper way of talking on the phone. Rather, instead of the conventional "hello" and "goodbye" he simply made his point and hung up with no small talk.

Now you might say his conversation was a little like a modern day text message: He contacted you out of the blue, his message was brief (far short of a conversation) and there were no "goodbyes." He'd have been way ahead of the game if text messaging had been invented during his time.

Now, because of the predominance of text messaging, like it or not, it has an affect on your life whether it is positive, adverse or perverse. For example, do you find yourself constantly checking your phone and if you call someone before sending them a text message do you feel a little like you've just shown up on their front door step unannounced?

If someone doesn't respond to your text in two seconds, do you feel like an idiot and do you sometimes feel like deleting a text message is like deleting evidence? Do you wonder if people are smiling or frowning when they read your text messages and, when you type in "Hahahaha," are you really "Hahahahaing?"

Finally, do you agree that relationships are harder because conversations become text messages, arguments become phone calls and feelings are nothing but status updates?

Well, since there are no official rules for text messaging, I think it's best to come up with a few right now. For example, you should:

1) Use test messaging in combination with conversation, not as a replacement.

2) When you send a text message, spell all words so as to eliminate confusion.

3) Never use all CAPS because it is equivalent to shouting.

4) Never not respond to a text message.

5) Never fail to say goodbye or sign off in some manner.

6) Remember, there is a time and place for sending a text message; not anytime and anyplace.

7) Never text while conversing or dining with someone, it shows ignorance.

8) Never text while driving. It's not worth dying for.

9) And finally, if someone constantly checks their phone or sends out text messages while they are with you and then fails to respond to your messages, you may challenge them to a duel or hang them from the nearest tree. Because it's time we got this thing under control.

Holten is a freelance columnist and cartoonist from Dickinson.