A smug laugh echoed through my nasal passages when I ran across my old friend, Miss Manners in the Washington Post online. Rubbing my hands together I dove in. How fun to discover her advice has kept up with these changing times.
Gentle Reader that I am, I never missed a column of hers back in the day of newsprint and paper boys. I’d snatch up my copy of the daily rag and open it to the comics, crossword puzzle, letters to the editor and Miss Manners. What I like about Miss Manners is that she is genteel. She is never rude, never stoops to insults and yet, manages to put the ill-mannered in their place while pumping up the meek. Her turns of a phrase are priceless ammunition in a world where good behavior is often taken advantage of. I love that she prefaces her advice with “Gentle Reader.”
Judith Martin, started her Miss Manners column in 1978 at the age of forty and she continues dishing out good advice, of late with the help of her son and daughter. I see that she’s written a slew of books, too and can’t wait to read her latest, “Miss Manners on Endless Texting.”
When interviewed by Smithsonian four years ago, Miss Manners was asked “What is etiquette? And why is it so important?” to which she answered, “It’s important because we can’t stand the way that other people treat us. Although we want the right to be able to behave in any way we want. Somehow a compromise is in order, if you want to live in communities. If you live on a mountaintop by yourself, it’s not necessary.”
I found this post from August 18th especially appealing:
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How quickly should one respond to personal e-mail?
I seem to remember a snail-mail rule that one was supposed to have a reply ready for the next post. Does a similar guideline exist in netiquette?
I’m asking because I have a list of several dozen far-flung friends to whom I send a group e-mail every week or so. I do this not only to let them know what my wife and I are up to, but also to stimulate some sort of reply so I can keep up with them.
Alas, relatively few respond. In fact, the biggest response came when I was sick recently and could barely lift my head, let alone dash off a witty communique. The brief absence of e-mail prompted several folks to write in, saying they missed my missives.
I suppose it’s nice to be missed, but I’d rather receive the e-mail responses. I should hasten to point out that I respond swiftly to personal and work-related e-mails.
GENTLE READER: There was a moment when Miss Manners wondered if all those people who never look up from their devices were merely trying to be polite by responding instantly to their correspondents. But the requirement to respond instantaneously to every instant message would unfortunately remove the polite from the gene pool.
As you have discovered, etiquette rules based on technological limitations (such as how long it takes the mail carrier to cross the road) have as short a shelf life as modern electronics. Miss Manners requires only that business and personal correspondence (from which definition she excludes group e-mails — no matter how witty or well-intentioned) be answered reasonably promptly.