Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Etiquette of Being (Dis-)Connected...

You have to admit, despite how fast modern technology is moving around us today, when you're over 40 and not living the corporate fast life you gave up years ago so you could make endless snacks and shop at Target, it's hard to keep up with staying connected in the proper way. I guess what I mean is, how do you translate being polite into little emoticons, or tweets, or friend requests you don't want or that don't want you, or annoying surveys that are now at the end of every interaction? So I thought we could run though them by category and then if you have any ideas to share with me, please let me know!

1. I'll start with Surveys: is it just me or does it seem that anytime you call a company now you are asked to stay on the line to answer a "brief" survey. And at almost every store you shop in, there are instructions at the end of your receipt that request you to go online and fill out a survey to be entered into a drawing, get a discount, earn points, get a free drink, anything to get you to spend time telling them how to improve their typically marginal customer service. And I don't know if you've gone to Rite Aid lately, but their receipt is about a yard long now! I've resorted to just tearing the bottom off and giving it back to the bewildered checkout person before I stuff it into my wallet bulging now not with money but survey requests!

Now, I typically don't answer many, but I did this once and only once around the holidays to get a Gap discount since I needed a new mommy uniform, and I swear I spent a "brief" half hour slogging through questions about why I didn't like the clothes I didn't buy and were there enough mirrors in the dressing room. Actually, can you make the mirrors take away the muffin-top next time please, then maybe I would have bought those clingy clothes you sell! Painful!

But I have to say my favorite one is Netflix, ever the champion of streamlining the process, after you call them because Phineas and Ferb reloaded and buffered 20 times you stay on the line for a get-this, one-second survey in which you answer yes or no to "did they help you?" and then they disconnect you! Every interaction should be this simple!

2. Carrying your i-phone around: now that I'm addicted like everyone else, I take this thing everywhere and like a smoker with a bad nicotine fix, I roll over in the morning and check my messages before I even get out of bed! Who cares that the only emails I got overnight were the Groupon offer I could care less about or one of 30 emails form the NE Seattle moms yahoo group looking for a pair of size 2 pink crocs or wondering if they should take their 3-month old baby to a 2-hour Sounders game. (Really, you need me to weigh in on this?!)

Yet even though I now catalog everything in my life on this miraculous little device, I still somehow don't have it near me when I do my most important thinking, in the bathroom (no, not there, I'm a woman, in and out!) when I'm washing my face and hiding my wrinkles and pimples with makeup. Because inevitably I get this great idea for a blog post or remember a Target item I have forgotten ten times and my phone is downstairs playing Justin Bieber music on the i-home device and I resolve to remember and then of course, forget for the 11th time to add it to my list when it is finally back in my now shaky hands where it belongs... I think the next accessory they should invent is the i-necklace that would allow all us multi-tasking women to simply snap it in and hang it around our necks everywhere we go. Now that's a million dollar i-dea!

3. Email etiquette: okay, so by now everyone knows that the exact selection of words you use in an email is extremely important in terms of implying any kind of tone to your intended reader. I can't tell you the number of times I either misunderstood or was misunderstood when reading or writing an email that probably should have been communicated via a phone call or in person instead. Read: italics are "snarky" caps are YELLING, three dots don't get you off the hook for a trailing or vague thought... And too many exclamation points annoy a lot of people!

At the same time, I know I don't have to remind you about the "reply all" button when your message was clearly only written for one person in a group. I'll never forget the stressful week of work my mom had when she complained about the same high-level someone included in a group email and inadvertently hit reply all; those are the times you wish that like Blue's Clues you could jump right into cyber space with a net and capture that binary code before it hits the receiver right on his digital head!

And finally, how do you politely end the string of emails back and forth? It's like that conversation where it kind of ended but you don't really say goodbye so sometimes you just decide you're not going to answer anymore. But then I feel so guilty wondering if they were expecting me to reply again so I'll just do a  happy face with my semi-colon, and parentheses, that's my winking guy, or sometimes I'll add a hyphen for a nose. I never did learn how to download real emoticons... And you already know I'm exclamation point crazy, so I use too many of those, since that lets them know I'm really excited or bored with my life or theirs or both!

But now in this new age of tweeting where 2 or 3 more characters are too many to type I keep getting this J at the end of sentences from my friends which I think is a shortcut smile although I think it looks more like a smirk...

4. The epitome of staying connected, Facebook: okay, first of all I think Mark Zuckerberg is secretly a bored, stay-at-home mom that invented Facebook during the rainiest 10 months of the year here in Seattle. Now I'm a little torn here. I have to admit that a) I'm not a very good Facebooker because although I think my kids are really cute I don't consider my mommy life that interesting other than its endless supply of content for my blogs and b) every time I do get on Facebook I feel like I've been missing this great party that has gone on without me! Like my high school angst re-lived, everyone else seems to have hundreds more friends than I do and sometimes when I reach out and make a request, I get snubbed! Talk about memories of the most insecure years of your life, I thought I buried these a long time ago!

Although I have to admit that I have also ignored requests, too. For example, a couple of months ago I got a request from this woman who claims she worked with me at my first ad agency in Pittsburgh. Since I had no recollection at all of her name, but didn't want to just ignore her like I've been ignored (no I'm not bitter!), I went to her home page to look for the face that would jar my memory of the good old "Mad Men" days at HBM Creamer and all I got was a photo montage of her cat in various poses. Okay, here's the deal, if you're going to reach out to people from your life 20 years ago, don't put a picture of you and Whiskers on there, please!

So, still wanting to be polite, I was honest and told her that I couldn't remember her and she said, you know, I was that crazy secretary that made smart remarks all the time. "Oh yea, now I remember!" Hello, I was in my 20's, it was advertising in the 80's, and we were all crazy, smart asses! Ignore button successfully pushed...

The flip side is that when you do connect with your old friend you used to ride bikes with when you were 12, it's hard to encapsulate the last 40 years of your life in an email "poke" isn't it?! I usually start out with, let's see, I'm married, have three kids that alternately drive me crazy yet give me a daily purpose, have wrinkles and pimples at the same time, can't play sports anymore so sign my kids up for everything possible, struggle with how to be fashionable at my age, have been saying "we're remodeling our home" for over 5 years now, have a great husband that doesn't know where all the laundry goes, wage a daily battle with clutter in my life, step in life's messy poop every now and then and now need reading glasses to write my blogs. And oh yea, where the hell is Farmland, anyway?! LOL ;-)