As the information revolution continues in full swing, with Apple recently taking a page from Microsoft by suing its way into total domination of a portion of the business – nice move, Apple – I guess I’d kind of had stronger hopes for humankind than all of this electronic democratization has produced.
Not unlike the wildly unpleasant experience one gets while driving the nation’s road-rage-infected highways – motorists now mimicking the early days of the Morton Downey Jr. show as a matter of course – I continue to be astounded how the promise of an interconnected online world has gone off the rails, so quickly.
This is of particular interest to professionals in the retirement planning community, not just all 330 million of us in the country with keyboards on the smartphones in our pockets. Your job, your reputation, your ability to liaise with bigger clients and larger contracts and more influential people – continues to ride on your ability to be civil when you type.
A few of us old-school ink-stained wretches who came up in the pre-electronic journalism world (I’m 43 but I manage to feel as curmudgeonly as Andy Rooney on occasion) remember the day when the letter to the editor was the way of the world.
A letter to the editor, as you may remember from that arcane time, required forethought and a bit of planning, even if it was written quickly and angrily in ballpoint pen (you could tell they were really, really angry if they ripped holes in the paper in the process) and shoved through the mail slot of your local newspaper.
You didn’t have to agree with the editor or the writer, but a few important standards were upheld – or surgically edited into your response – suggesting that civility overrule name-calling, slander and maybe just pure mean-spiritedness. And the process had the delicious element of time on its side. How romantic.
Nowadays, the Web allows us to respond before we’ve thought things out. Or, frequently, before we’ve absorbed the content, considered some context, let the whole thing roll around in our heads for a while.
We all know it’s at its most explosive in the comment sections of websites very much like this one here – I encourage the response, and the enthusiasm, but … as I say, I sometimes yearn for that 24-hour cooling-off period.
In a business setting, it’s your email and your social media where your opinion is going to get you into trouble. Email, tweets and Facebook posts are great to quickly get your point across or share a joke, but that immediacy can also get you into deep doodoo, as the kids like to say. And the glowing electronic page is a terrible place to try to glean nuance and depth and meaning. Especially as more and more disparate opinions and ideas and studies and news alerts and personality profiles and tweets and updates keep coming at you, all day long.
I was fascinated to discover that colleges are now offering courses for their students on the basics of online etiquette, probably a necessary tool for Internet-reared students who occasionally forget that other people’s opinions are indeed just as important as theirs, no matter how loudly you yell.
Kent State in Ohio has a good one, and the basics it outlines are ones we all could stick by:
- Avoid language that may come across as strong or offensive.
- Keep writing to a point and stay on topic.
- Read first – other people’s posts and comments – and write later.
- Review, review … then send.
The University of Wisconsin has some interesting suggestions for its online behavior, mentioning that people avoid humor and sarcasm (some of our favorite tools) as they have no facial or tone-of-voice cues to help explain the post’s intentions. I disagree with that one, by the way.
The most concise statement on the core rules of netiquette go back nearly three decades when the earliest forms of the Internet (like the mainframe I used for a chat room in 1990) were first developed. They remain true. Share expert knowledge, respect other people’s time and bandwidth (I think that may have been more literal than figurative during the days of dialup) and … adhere to the same standards of behavior online that you follow in real life. Pretty simple, really.