Actually, rudeness is dictating people’s behavior — and don’t you dare leave me a phone message!

ParentsPstcrd_041310.jpg (Photo credit: Carolyn_Sewell)

This New York Times story makes me want to throw a chair:

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.

And, in case this didn’t piss you off quite enough — here’s some more wisdom from the Boy Wonder of techno-communication:

Now, with Google and online maps at our fingertips, what was once normal can be seen as uncivilized — like asking someone for directions to a house, restaurant or office, when they can easily be found on Google Maps.

I once asked a friend something easily discovered on the Internet, and he responded with a link to, 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.

Pardon my intemperate tone, but for fuck’s sake!

If someone asks me for directions, which is rare because I generally offer them, unless I am in a huge rush, I’m happy to help. The weather forecast is also available (fogey alert!) on the front page of the Times, on television and usually on the radio.

But God forbid we should waste one another’s time. Because the time you waste reading my tedious thank-you email is exactly the time you were planning to spend playing Angry Birds curing cancer.

This sort of pretentiousness makes me want to vomit.

If you want to communicate with other people, try to understand a basic concept — we do not all communicate in the exact same way, nor using the exact same language nor the exact same tools. If you text me, you’ve just wasted your time. I don’t read texts, ever.

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone
Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is this rude of me? Quite probably. It also marks me as someone who prefers to use email, far more than telephone. If someone texts me, I won’t even see it. Not because I think I’m so important, but because I’m so goddamned busy that an email is, for me, the easiest way for me get on with things. I generally reply to emails promptly and I also reply to phone messages. I even make phone calls. (Feel free to face-palm in horror.)

I don’t wish to communicate in syllables, so I don’t tweet either.

Yet, somehow, I’m able to maintain friendships and business relationships with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, all younger than I. Maybe because they get the basic premise — we’re here to have relationships, not hand-flap our Huge Importance at one another and tell others exactly how they must communicate with us or risk their wrath.


How do you communicate: text, email, phone?

Do you alter your communication style for people older or younger who may do it differently?

88 thoughts on “Actually, rudeness is dictating people’s behavior — and don’t you dare leave me a phone message!

  1. claireelizabethscott

    What an interesting post — social media and communication are things I’ve been contemplating recently, as it’s becoming less frequent now for people to speak to one another in person (I heard on the news last week that people who live in the same house text each other — when they’re both in that house!). It’s like everyone’s become so impatient (like your quoted person who can’t be bothered with voicemails and finds it rude not to send a text instead), and I certainly wouldn’t call one form of communication more a waste of time than another. As long as that person isn’t actually wasting your time (i.e. being lazy, rather than genuinely inquisitive) then who cares how we communicate?! Talking is good, and we’ve so many avenues open to us now in which to do so — why not exploit them all and accept that different people prefer different options?

    Personally, I prefer a face-to-face chat, but if I can’t have that, I like telephoning — I can be a bit sarcastic at times, and it totally doesn’t translate well in print 🙂

    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment! (Which took time….:-)

      I agree. I think the loss of face to face communication is going to (and already is having) have a negative effect on many aspects of our lives, from health care (would you prefer your doctor writing on an Ipad or looking you in the eye…good luck with that choice now) to restaurants and retail and hospitality of all sorts.

      I have a blog post for later this week on how to be a terrific assistant — and my first suggestion (written before Bilton’s rant) is to look people in the eye!

  2. I loathe the phone (worked in call centre, developed mental allergy), but I will use it if I have to. Email is great, texting with various apps – SMS, Whatsapp, Viber – works well for me too. Anything text-based, basically. That being said, I am getting used to the phone now, because Skype is my connection to my friends and family around the world. Video phone is the next best thing to being there in person.

    1. I do a tremendous amount of my work now — reaching clients and editors, interviewing sources — ONLY by phone and email. It’s lonely! And you miss a lot of terrific detail that makes for much better journalism if you never leave the house. But time is money and it’s a delicate balance — it takes me 2hrs to get into NYC (travel time alone) — and how much time can I devote to any one story?

      But the larger point is intimacy, and some people’s fear of it.

      1. I find the phone a frustrating halfway point between intimacy and lack thereof. I’m an all or nothing person. Text, email and keep it distant, or go the whole hog and meet me in person. With the phone, it’s like I’m almost there but always acutely aware that I’m missing out on body language, facial expressions etc. Which is horribly frustrating.

      2. Letter is growing into a novel. Been sick for the last couple of weeks flu -> chest infection -> bronchitis so have had plenty of time to write, being in bed. You’ll get it when I can drag myself to the post office, promise!

      3. Ouch….I had bronchitis for almost a month,even with taking antibiotics and using an asthma puffer twice a day for weeks. I thought I would never ever get better. Then one day, I did.

        Hope you feel much better muy pronto!!!

  3. I never text, although I’ll receive them from family (rare, because they know)or co-workers if necessary. Email works for me because I’m on the internet most of the day and don’t have cell phone reception at my workplace. I make phone calls when I have to, but apart from family and one close friend, I don’t usually talk on the phone.
    I have to make some concessions for a friend of mine who has a dial-up connection. I do lots of google searches for him because it takes too long for him to load pages with photographs, etc.

    1. I speak on the phone less and less, but mostly because it’s a work-tool for me and not pleasure. I do have long (1-2 hr calls) chats with friends in Canada or living far away who I rarely see face to face. I try to get into a room with people whenever possible.

  4. I tailor my communications to a specific person. I have one friend who is best on Skype, another who only likes texts or emails and family members who don’t own computers, so phone or written letters. If I want to maintain relationships with people, I must be flexible and I like to be – it keeps my skills sharp in all venues. If someone is completely rigid, they are limiting themselves and they probably won’t hear much from me.

    1. I would expect no less from you! 🙂

      I think this is polite, kind and smart. One of the many issues here (which I’ve blogged about) is the reliance on e-messages. In 10 or 20 or 40 years, will we reach into a shoebox of love-letters we printed out from email or Tweets? I think not.

  5. Funny I should read this post this morning. Just found out my tweeter account was probably hacked…so my solution? Delete it…I don’t even have a cell…I only set it up so I could tweet my blog posts. I lived without any access to the internet except through public libraries for close to 3 years…no cell phone either since the signal was so bad in most areas it was a complete waste of money. Gotta love idiots like the author of that article.

    1. I have a cellphone only because my husband insisted — and I use it 85%+ of the time to send and receive email. I loathe being interrupted and cellphones are very bad for that.

      So far (!!!), this fool’s rant has gotten 401 comments. I wonder how many agree with his thesis?

      1. Probably quite a few agree…I would imagine. There was a time I was knee-deep in tech…sold it, used it, understood it, loved it, desired more…but not at the expense of simple courtsey. Tech is a tool…and it’s evolving in leaps and bounds…but it is not at the place where we should be expecting everyone to ALL have equal access (or want it)…that’s just ignorance

      2. Many of the 400+ comments on Bilton’s piece are making the point that many people do not use technology as he does, even those in their 20s and 30s — and there is a cohort of people for whom texting or emailing is physically difficult, painful or even impossible.

      3. Good…I didn’t get very far in the comments on the NYT article. My sister on the other hand finds it very convienent…she’s got 2 young girls in hockey and coaches herself…so for her it’s a quick way to keep in touch with the parents, kids etal. Me…I find it rather painful…my brain just doesn’t compute in that sort of brief fashion 😉

  6. I wish on the writer of that article this fate: That he will lose his luggage after arriving in a developing country (preferably India–it’s a 20 hour flight). He will then need to wait in lines that take hours to filter through only to find himself at an unmanned window because the attendant has been called away or gone to lunch or tea or his wife had a baby or who really knows. He will then need to wait in the next line over to eventually be waited on by someone who asks him for a photocopy of a document that he has not bothered to photocopy ahead of time. Following that, he will need to find a copy shop and provide his own copy. The photocopy shop will not be located near the airport, since there is never anything near an airport, and he will need to spend several hours in a taxi sitting in traffic he could easily outwalk. (Although the airport must own a copier, they aren’t sharing it.) This paper will then need to stamped by 3-4 people all of whom require waiting in line for–for no discernible reason….And, in the end, he never sees his luggage again. Probably because he was rude, and this incited quiet passive-aggression he didn’t even notice.

    In a word, he’s a spoiled brat and it’s high time he saw the extent of his over-privilege for what it is. The rest of the world puts up with a lot more inconvenience for less important reasons than maintaining relationships.

  7. I text, email and use the phone, but texting is my least favorite. My boss will text me at 6:00 a.m. or 9:30 p.m. and it infuriates me. Usually it is something stupid like…remind me to tell you about my phone call with so and so or where is our 8:00 a.m. meeting? I’m not a huge fan of talking on the telephone in my personal life, but I find it extremely necessary in my professional life. Email is effective, but tone may be a problem. If I have something direct to say, I think it’s best to pick up the phone. My kids…both in their twenties…prefer I call them over text or email. While they are obviously tech savvy, they still appreciate hearing their mom’s voice.

    1. Great point….Email is very difficult for emotional tone or affect. One can so easily mistake a simple, clear message for curtness or even rudeness. And how to truly convey warmth or appreciation or confusion?

  8. ianprichard

    That NYT piece read like bad farce in a lot of places, and I thought that’s what it was for the first several paragraphs, especially when he got to the “my father learned his lesson” part. My father would never contact me again, in any way shape or form, if I was that patronizing to him, especially in public and especially in print! And Bilton communicates “mostly in twitter” with his MOM?? Shocker that he has such invaluable advice to offer… Dick.

    A mentor of mine is in his 60s and doesn’t text. Several years ago when I first started darkening his doorway, I disregarded his prohibitions against texts, convinced that I was going to do him a favor by changing his attitude, by bringing him into the bright new century. For a year I don’t think he read any of my texts, let alone respond to them. So, I gave up and now we communicate by (talking on the) phone, “like human fucking beings,” as he puts it.

    With everyone else – including my parents, who are also in their 60s – I text things that I don’t need to interrupt their days with a phone call to tell them – non-pressing matters, quick hellos and “thinking of yous,” funny pictures – and things that can save them having to find a pen to write them down – directions, addresses, phone numbers, business hours (the very things homeboy says google absolves me of my responsibility to furnish). The latter’s extremely helpful in our mobile age when half the time at least people aren’t near a desk or a pen and paper.

    I try to be open to others’ communication preferences, even if they’re not mine. Especially if they’re not mine, because that’s when I have to really TRY to be open… I hate it when I call someone, (s)he doesn’t answer, and I get a text back immediately. This is okay if it’s during work and the person’s in a meeting or otherwise unavailable to talk but can text, but so often the texter-not-a-talker is watching House Hunters or doing something else equally imperative and uninterruptable for whatever drivel they assume I’m calling about. But, I swallow my pride and aggression and text back, and use it as an opportunity to, as the Buddhists would put it, “become pliable.”

    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment — lots here to ponder!

      One of the many issues Bilton’s snottiness raises is a fear/loathing/disrespect for emotional connection…because it’s so much easier to ignore people now using technology.

      My husband and I speak by phone 2-3 times every day and often email as well. I miss him even during the workday! I love him. We are exquisitely aware — as is anyone here in NY who experienced (as we did) 9/11 — that shit can (and does) happen and thousands of people never saw their loved ones again. How many of them now long desperately for a letter, call, email or text from them?

      We are on this earth for a very short time. Bilton is an ass.

      1. ianprichard

        Yes, Bilton is most definitely an ass. Like you mentioned in another comment, it’s interesting and depressing to see what effect this loss of face-to-face or even voice-to-voice interaction, this “fear/loathing/disrespect for emotional connection” is having and will have on us as a society. It’s entropic, right – “things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” and we’re not even aware of it until we look up from our glass rectangles and, blinking blankly, realize we have nothing to say to the person sitting across from us, touching our knee – and it takes so much more energy to slow the world down than to help it spin a little faster. But I agree – loss and a certain anxiety over more of it go a long way in making it very much worthwhile to expend that energy.

        Of course, as much as I wish people would slow down, I don’t wish loss on anyone, even Bilton. But I do get the feeling that he (and many of the Huge Importance people that applauded his article in the comments section) might not miss people when they’re gone. Which would be the saddest fact of all.

      2. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that anyone who has actually lost someone — or several people — they loved deeply, esp. without warning (as happened to my husband, with a fallen colleague) is a lot smarter than this.

        Or they just don’t ever care. In which case, the hell with ’em.

  9. Oh my goodness. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I send emails and texts with just “thank you” written in the message and I will help others with directions. Not everyone has a smartphone (still)! Especially when one is visiting from out of the country, they might not be able to use their phones.

    I believe that the small courtesies are extremely important – like waiting those extra few seconds to hold the door for someone behind you or getting up to help hold the door for the mother with her stroller. If people stop doing those things because they “think” they are too busy to do them, I cannot even imagine what life would be like…

    1. Oh, come to NYC! 🙂

      No, that’s not fair. People here are often very helpful to one another and it’s one of the things I enjoy. I never hesitate to ask someone for the time or directions. If they are SO busy, why are they out wandering the streets? 🙂

      1. Haha. Good point! But even beyond wandering the streets, sending a thank you message to someone in response to a work email not only shows that you appreciate the person’s time but also confirms that you received their note! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat wondering if my email was received because I didn’t get a response. And besides that, most email programs show a preview of the message, so you don’t need to spend the time opening it to know what it says.

  10. justaweirdthought

    Hi Kelly. I started following you this afternoon only and your posts are really cool. And yeah I do change my way of communication depending upon the person i m talking to. I think it is good to do so bcoz it adds a lot of moral stuff to your image. Other than that this is also a way of maintaining a healthy relationship with different people. I mean of course your elderly neighbour, your boss and your granny expect more respectful tone from you than your friends!!!

  11. leah j. wolfe

    Hilarious stuff! What a great start to my day. And if I had your phone number, I would sooo text you right now haha.

      1. leah j. wolfe

        I so knew you were gonna say that. But that’s fine smarty pants-when I cure cancer using an algorithm from the weather report, and I text everybody, you’ll be sorry you missed out on being in the know. You will say, “Hey, I know her. I gave her the idea!” No one will believe you because you didn’t get one of my awesome texts.

      2. leah j. wolfe

        Pshaw. No one rides a damn pigeon anymore! However, I’ve got a Pony Express rider geared up and ready for when the USPS shuts down, so maybe you can get your braggin’ rights.
        I’ll leave off now, since you’re damn busy, but would like to say always a pleasure. Here’s wishing you a busy, but unstressful week.

  12. I have to admit on reading this post there were times where I laughed and others where I reflected and realised I was guilty as charged. I live in an Arab culture which is generally more conservative than most other cultures so many traditions are abided to to the point where people on Facebook will thank you for tagging them in a picture in a single comment, or I once even received a private message from someone doing just that! I suppose sometimes there’s the fear that by not abiding to social etiquette of the region people will be infuriated. In my case, just like you do, the finding of the message as I am, to quote you ‘curing cancer’ of course, is sometimes just an annoying waste of time and it sometimes annoys me further to think that someone actually took the time out of their lives to go through a whole extra clicks and taps of buttons in order to send such a message…

      1. And I just realised I had forgotten to reply to your questions in the midst of my blabber about cultures! Well I’m 18 so I’m living my age really. I’m generally quite versatile with communication. When I say ‘text’ it could also mean more than just the conventional text message, it could go to Whatsapp or Viber or iMessage if the other person happens to have another Apple product. I just deactivated my Facebook account a while ago due to what may have easily turned into an unhealthy addiction to the social network…e-mail is also pretty much for granted so yes I am pretty versatile; so whenever older people want to communicate with me, they never really find it too hard to find me. I prefer flexibility rather than being stuck in one or two forms. Perhaps the one thing I could actually miss is Twitter…

      2. I think it’s wisest to be adaptable. Very few forms of education or work are conducted solely within a tiny, narrow cohort of people who think and behave exactly as we do — or would wish!

  13. I’m pretty anti-tech and have texted only once. I prefer the phone. Sometimes I’ll send an email to a friend, but that is rare. Business is different and I will conform to the other’s expectations, unless it involves texting on those little keys and having to press the numbers repeatedly to get to the correct letter. Ugh!

  14. I actually hate texting unless I have the sparsest information to either give or get. I also hate text speak, my brothers complain that they have to read full sentences from me on their phones. And I love handwritten letters, though those are getting fewer and more far between. My high school mentor and I still communicate via letter and gifts. (Gifts is another way I like to communicate, though it’s not as typical. I can often say with a token better what I can in words.)

    I prefer email as most of my people are in different time zones, though on the weekends I try to have at least one real phone call with a friend or family member. I like talking TO people, not feeling like I’m talking at them. As for not sending thank you notes or emails, or at least basic acknowledgements of receipt of message, my grandmothers would wallop this guy!

    1. You can’t beat one great feature of email — asynchronous communication. It’s extremely helpful to be able to shoot off an email at 2am (if necessary) or right after dinner — even if you really don’t want to engage in some long conversation at that moment, nor might your recipient. In this respect, I think email is more courteous as it allows one to read it when you actually have time, versus the *&%@@*) phone which always seems to interrupt me. I find it noisy and intrusive, unless it’s social.

  15. As always, great perspective. I communicate with people in whatever way works best for them. I communicate to build relationships, whether they result in friendship or business. I don’t care HOW. If that means a call, text, email, or whatever, then that’s what it means. Connectors can’t be choosers.

    1. On a side note, texts are great to remind me what I need to follow up on. If I have a phone conversation while “running and gunning”, details can slip through the cracks. Texts and email help avoid the whole “he said / she said” problem.

      1. “Texts and email help avoid the whole “he said / she said” problem.”

        Oh, yeah! These days so many people in my business are playing games and cheating writers of our earned freelance payments — I get everything in writing. That way I have dates and documents to hand to my lawyers. Not kidding.

  16. It drives me absolutely insane when people don’t reply to whatever form of communication with acknowledgment that they received that communication. If I send and e-mail, a simple thank you acknowledges that you got it, and read it. I’d rather have that than find out that someone never received whatever the message was. I mean, of course there are some things that don’t require response, but it seems like common courtesy.

    On the flip side, though, are the students I have that expect me to feed them information. For example, I sent a class-wide e-mail a few weeks ago offering an alternative assignment in case the show they were asked to see and review was cancelled due to snow. Several students e-mailed, “how will I know if the snow is cancelled?” I suppose I could have made continuous updates as I got information, but that one annoyed me. I had to look it up just as they did, or make a phone call to find out. While, like you, I am happy to help people with directions and information, there is a point where they should take a little initiative, don’t you think?

    Excellent post as usual


  17. I’m off Facebook. What a relief. I like texting but I don’t necessarily think they must be responded to immediately. I feel the same way about emails but I tend to take them more seriously. Sometimes I don’t check voice mails for a few days and I only have phone conversations with people who can hold one. I’ve recently started sending and receive letters in the mail.

      1. Nemesis

        I’ve always thought, “What the Heck, if it’s good enough for the Roman Curia and Tonto…”…

        [NoteToMsMalled: I generally tailor the medium to the recipient’s tastes… Personally, I’m rather OldSchool… 3Martini, LateLuncheon FaceTime has been so unjustly maligned of ‘late’! I have a FountainPen, too.]

  18. I’ve stopped using FB, and hardly use a cellphone *being in the country it’s very easy to switch off from all of this needy, attentions seeking communication. I love emails, to me they are personal letters, and I love a good phone call/skype.

    Business however can easily be done via email. Texting is laziness, and is more time consuming than actually calling the person (so you know they’ve gotten your message).

    This guy does sound pretty rude and probably is a horrible friend/coworker! I think he’s missed the point of life…it’s not all about work, it’s about human connections and love.

    He may as well be a machine.

  19. I think it’s just common courtesy to reply thank you verbally when someone helps you in person so why should this be any different if the conversation is through an email or text? I always acknowledge when I’ve received information this way and I don’t care if the person on the receiving end feels I’ve wasted their time reading my thank you to them. I was taught to use my manners and use them I will.

    1. I suspect this writer is in the minority — his article has received 484 comments (as of now) — they usually shut that down after about 250, so the NYT editors must be loving all the views and hits.

      The more cynical among us think this was merely a way to gin up a lot of controversy…

  20. Do you alter your communication style for people older or younger who may do it differently?

    How do you communicate: text, email, phone? I communicate only via phone, email and face to face. I don’t leave voice mails. I just try again.

    Once a sales manager (my boss) sent me an email saying “Why must you always send me a thank you email?” I replied, with an email, “It’s covered by a thing called Freedom of Speech.” I signed it, THANK YOU

  21. Sheesh, when I started reading the NYT article I assumed it was satire…but apparently not. So often those little interactions that the writer determined to be rude are gateways to meeting interesting people and finding out things that aren’t available on Google. Or, as a journalist, to finding the stories that actually matter to people.

    On a personal note, I feel that flexibility in terms of how I communicate has been key in allowing me to keep close friendships with so many people spread over some huge geographical distances. Some of my friends communicate best over the phone, others by text, others through Facebook posts, and some react best to an old-fashioned, snail-mail letter. By using all of those methods of communication, I get to keep my friends, and that is definitely worth listening to a few voicemails for.

      1. Well, I only write that name on official documents. I don’t expect my friends to address me as such. Unless, you know, they want to.

  22. I think it’s a matter of being aware that there are so many ways to communicate. Some people I know won’t communicate unless it’s through facebook, and some people will NEVER communicate through facebook, …I think it’s a matter of knowing who you are dealing with, if you find someone constantly texts you, but rarely picks up the phone to call you….picking up the phone to call them will probably not end in a phone conversation, but a reply text that they are busy, and what do you need?…they’ve trained themselves, and the world around them at communicating in thier preferred method. We humans will always try and push our will on others. However, I agree it is rude…unless you’ve provided your seemingly logical reasons…we can easily respect other peoples rules for communication….to show respect, and hope in return they will respect ours. I’ve found myself getting frustrated several times when having to tell people where some place is. I’ve been on several productions where people ask where the nearest pizza place is, rather than google it on the iphone they have in their hand…but I do realize they are often looking for a recommendation of what is actually good of some sort (I often do the same, and compare to results)…anyways…great point…and all too true…

  23. I have been told by a few friends that they simply, “do not listen” to their phone messages. One of them implied that I was quite rude to leave a voice mail with the knowledge that they are too busy to check them…I hate texting. As a result, we don’t get around to seeing each other much anymore.

    As for those who still (should be in bold print) ask for directions; If it is my grandmother or someone who may get more confused using google maps than by my terrible sense of direction, then I let it slide. If, however, it is a business (a painter recently asked for directions to my house) then I admit my tone may become a little terse while attempting to give landmark type ( past the blue house, second from the stop sign) directions. Hell, I have no idea how to get to my house, except by rote memory.

    1. People too busy to check VM are too busy for relationships, in my book.

      I disagree with you, but to each his own. I don’t have GPS and I often do not use or carry my cellphone (despite what others do or expect of me) so I, too, may ask for directions. Not everyone has access to a computer or exactly when they should.

      I feel like we’re not expecting tech/apps to replace human interaction. I’m not happy about that.

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