If It’s Written Down, Is It Still Unwritten?

A few days ago I read an article about the rules of communication in today’s society. The title of the article is ‘Don’t call me before you text’: The new rules of communicating in the digital era. It can be found by doing a quick search, or use your energy judiciously and just click on the above link. After reading the article one side of my mind asked the other, “If it’s written down, is it still unwritten?” That’s the question I now pose to you.

Really, that’s not the purpose of this blog entry. I’ve read the rules several times and would like to respond to each of them. There are 15, yes 15, rules to communicating with another person. For a guy that’s getting older as each day comes and goes, I get the impression that I am being left behind in this ever younger world of technological advances. Maybe I can help myself (you, too?) by making a correlation between each of today’s rules with how we did it around my house when I was much younger than I am now.

To begin I’d like to list those rules (with thanks to USAToday and journalist Dalvin Brown):

15 unwritten rules of communicating in the digital age, according to people on Twitter

  1. Don’t randomly FaceTime people. If you want to Facetime, shoot them a text or call first.
  2. One word texts like OK and LOL are conversation killers. Don’t respond with one word, unless you don’t want to talk anymore.
  3. If someone you know comments on a photo or video you posted, you should respond. 
  4. If someone communicates to you using a certain form of communication, e.g. e-mail, then you are expected to respond using the same form of communication.
  5. Don’t like your own posts. People see that, and it makes you look weird.
  6. Don’t ask for likes, comments or shares.
  7. Don’t take hours to respond without an excuse.
  8. You don’t actually have to leave a voice message.
  9. If someone asks you multiple questions via text, don’t just reply to part of the message.
  10. Don’t post dozens of photos of cheezy quotes back to back.
  11. It’s OK to text Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, etc. You don’t have to call. 
  12. Don’t have one-on-one’s in the group-chat, better yet, rarely send group chats. They’re mostly annoying and usually avoidable. 
  13. Try not to deliver bad news via text. Don’t deliver bad news via DMs.
  14. If you don’t get a response, you don’t have to get angry. It’s not always that big of a deal. 
  15. If you have time to post on Snapchat, you have time to respond to text messages.

Those seem simple enough, do they not? Maybe for you. I’ve had to print them off and tape them all over the house—refrigerator, phone, computer, and the mirror in the bathroom. Surviving in this new world is tough for an old guy.

Rule #1—We didn’t have to worry about FaceTime, but people showed up at the house out of the blue all the time. You’d be sitting down to dinner and the doorbell would ring. One of the kids would jump up to answer it and come back saying that there was someone at the door. No kidding! Are you sure the doorbell hasn’t shorted out again.

Standing in the doorway would be a salesman (brushes, vacuum cleaners, insurance, feel good juice, etc.), the paperboy collecting for the daily delivery of the news, the neighbor wanting to discuss your cat crapping in his yard, some lost person requesting to borrow the phone, and sometimes it was even grandma and grandpa dropping by for a visit. Why didn’t they call first, or send a letter via USPS (affectionately known today as Snail Mail)? How rude of those people.

Rule #2—The one word we used to end a conversation was “good-bye” and we hung up the phone.

Rule #3—We didn’t get too many instances of people violating this rule. Photos cost money, so there were not too many sent. And, those that were had to be the best of the roll. There was always a comment on the photos that were sent (“The kids sure have gotten big” or “Don’t they look cute in that outfit they got for Christmas?” — you know, things like that). Of course by the time you got the letter with the comments you’ve most likely forgotten which pictures where sent to which relative.

Rule #4—This one is kind of crazy if you ask me. When we got questionable news in a letter there were many times a phone call was made for clarification or comfort. It all depended on the news. It goes without saying that when we communicated with someone in person we had no choice but to continue with that form of communication.

Rule #5—I’m not sure how this one was handled way back when. I don’t ever recall a time when someone around our house responded to something they did or created in such a narcissistic manner (little kids don’t count).

Rule #6—This one was violated all the time, especially at Christmas. It never failed that the aunt from Nebraska would always ask what was thought of her fruitcake. And, Uncle Art always had to be asked what he thought of the sweater, and Dad had to be asked how he liked his new tie, even though he didn’t wear ties.

Rule #7—Hours? Hell, we’re talking days, sometimes weeks, way back then. No one set down and responded to a letter they received the day they received it. And, typically, when speaking on the phone a response to any question was given immediately, unless the question was to Uncle Art, and then there could be a several second delay in his response (he was usually in the middle of a cougher’s hack, or finishing off a good G&T).

Rule #8—Voice message? No machine. But, if you were lucky enough that someone answered the phone, you could leave a message with them. Most of the homes had a notepad and pencil next to the phone (we had a chalkboard on the wall in the kitchen next to where the phone hung).

Rule #9—We didn’t have too many violations of this rule. When a letter was sent with multiple questions they were answered one at a time when a return letter was written and mailed. If an answer wasn’t given, you could be pretty sure that next month’s letter contained a repeat of the question.

Rule #10—That never occurred around our place. Postage. Postage. Postage. Stamps cost money, and letters were kept under one ounce, especially if it was airmail.

Rule #11—We mailed cards for all the holidays and birthdays. The real important occasions, mainly Christmas and birthdays, a phone call was made, as well as a card being sent. Long distance calls were kept short. They did not come cheap. Hell, where I lived the next town south of us was long distance. You could almost drive there and visit cheaper than a phone call.

Rule #12—Group chats? You mean cocktail parties? I thought the goal was to finagle your way into a situation for a one to one chat with the prettiest single girl at the party. I guess I’m just old fashioned like that.

I’m not sure I agree with the last part of this rule, about avoiding group chats. I would think that the right group would necessitate interesting chats. They made for great parties way back when.

Rule #13—Sometimes delivering bad news could not be done in person due to distance, so a phone call had to be made. For the people that didn’t have a phone (yes, those folks did exist back then) the news was delivered via Snail Mail.

Rule #14—I agree with this one. Letters were answered when they were answered. Phones were answered when they were answered. If you really wanted to talk to the person and they didn’t answer the first time you called, you called back.

Rule #15—Thank god we didn’t have to deal with this one.

I’m glad to say I grew up in a time with far fewer rules. If you wanted to see person, you went over to their house. Most of the time you called first to make sure they were home., unless you just happened to be out and about, then you just stopped by. Gas costs money. And, if they lived across town, it could be a significant amount you’d have to spend.

Imagine this. Your best friend lived 15 miles away. Your old beater Ford got 12 miles to the gallon. There and back would be two and half gallons of gas. At 39 cents a gallon that would mean you’d spend almost a dollar for naught. It was always best to call first, just to make sure they were going to be home. But, if you just happened to be close by, there was nothing wrong with dropping in to say hi. Usually, that was a pleasant surprise, and brightened any day.

Well, I’ve got to make another copy of these written unwritten rules. I suppose a copy in the car would be a good idea.

Good night, Mrs. Jackson, wherever you are.