“Mom.” I cannot say it was my children’s first word, but I promise you it is their favorite. They yell it from their bedrooms, the bathrooms, the back yard, and the speed of my response correlates to the urgency in their cries. This behavior is called Classical Conditioning and is a term made famous by Russian psychologist, Ivan Pavlov. Like Pavlov’s beloved dog, we have been conditioned to jump when our phone pings. We do so regardless of what we are doing, who we are with, and irrespective of the matter’s urgency.
If you were having lunch with a friend or client, helping a child with homework, or trying to finish a project for work, and a younger child persisted to interject, most of us would confirm the child’s matter was not urgent, then remind them it is not polite to interrupt. So why don’t we hold our phones to the same standard?
The answer lies in the universal expectation that has evolved that our phones be on, or near our bodies, at all times with the accompanying expectation we respond immediately (or almost immediately) to every notification we receive.
We have allowed ourselves to be accessible most waking hours of the day, almost every day of the week, and because we know people have their phones nearby and will likely answer in a reasonable amount of time, we no longer plan ahead. Remember the “olden” days? That is what my children call it—the time before we were an ear-pod doting, Apple Watch wearing, never without a phone, society. We have become so accustomed to the idea that people have their phones nearby and will instantly respond to any message we send, we no longer take the time to plan.
If, as a society, we could address this and settle on a set of universal guidelines for how and when we text and how and when we are expected to respond, it would give us permission to turn the pings off, to fully engage in the things and people that matter to us most, and to not feel the sand-bagged weight to respond, almost immediately, to every text we receive.
Here are several universal etiquette rules to combat the unwritten rule our phones never be out of arm’s reach and the accompanying expectation we respond immediately (or almost immediately) to the messages we receive:
• Nothing time-sensitive or action- require should be sent via text. There may be times when a text is more conducive to a situation, but there are many more times when we text out of habit when a phone call would be more efficient.
• Anything requiring immediate attention should be granted a phone call. One, two-way exchange could convey all pertinent information both parties need, even if either caller has to leave a voicemail.
• If a text is going to require several additional messages to remediate, it should also be handled with a phone call. This would not only save time (something we all want more of) but would reduce the inefficiency of back and forth texting.
• Group messages for informative purposes only should end in “NRN” (No Response Needed.) This would get the information to all parties involved but eliminate the onslaught of “got it” emoji pings that typically follow a group message.
• We should ask ourselves the following questions before sending a text:
1. Is the message action required?
2. Will the message require a slew of follow-up messages?
3. Could the message be handled more efficiently with a phone call? 4. Pertaining to group messages, could the information be better sent by email, thereby reducing the onslaught of pings that typically follow a group text message?