Thanking the unthankable: How to manage manners in the virtual world.

Good Manners

Back to school tomorrow, kids in bed, Christmas decorations are on the way down, and now comes the time for the thank you letters.

When I was younger I quite liked writing thank you letters. Got a pen, got some paper, wrote a letter. Done. Now, when I get ready to sit down with my kids I wonder if a simple letter is enough. Should I enclose a picture of the kiddies? Or one they drew themselves? Or wouldn’t it be nice if each letter contained a picture of them wearing/playing/reading the particular present that the receiver of the letter sent for them? 

I weigh up all of these options and I wonder, procrastinate and invariably fail to get anything done by mid January, at which point one of the kids has a birthday. And then what should I do? Send the Christmas thank you cards and the birthday ones together? Or should I stagger them, perhaps with a holding card in the first one, advising the second will soon be on the way? There have been occasions when I have resorted to sending a photo and a note via email, or Facebook message or even text.  But somehow, that doesn’t feel quite right. Letters are kind of nice to receive after all, aren’t they?

I found a book on my shelves. Normally, when I refer to a book in a post it is one by or about a much respected philosopher. This one is by Barbara Cartland. I am not sure of her philosophical credentials but she has big opinions in a big helpful list. It is called “The Etiquette handbook”. It has sections on how women should not wear face cream in bed, and how one should address one’s servants. It helps us understand whether or not to take a friend when invited to a party, and how, once at the party, it is best if you and friend do not get totally sozzled. It also advises how, “The child who receives no training in etiquette and good manners will grow into a primitive savage”. Crikey.

Alas, while it does refer to how the different classes in the class system here in the UK have different codes of etiquette, it has no advice on how to be a generally top notch pillar of politeness across the myriad of social media tools. Looks like the kids could have a very savage fate indeed, given the tech savvy world we are raising them in.

I don’t think my kids engaging with these technological tools means the end of manners, decency and their ability to be good people. I seem to recall when my parents thought home phones used by teenagers were going to cause the downfall of civilisation (yes, I am that old). Monumental debates were had in our house on where to install a second phone (not too near my bedroom, where nobody would be able to hear if I began speaking in tongues). But, once we had agreed the house rules, when on the phone the general manners thing was pretty much just as it was in real life: say hello, say goodbye, don’t talk to others while talking on the phone. The only thing to avoid became apparent once phones became cordless – do not talk on the phone whilst sat on the toilet. Pretty easy rules to follow.

Now I have: a home phone; a mobile phone that receives calls, messages, and FaceTime ; Skype; a personal email; a personal email that apple makes me have; a personal email that my phone provider makes me have; a blogging email address; Facebook for personal use and for blogging; too much spam to see any emails that matter;  a Google+ account; a twitter account; an instagram account; my Blog; a letter box; and an increased tendency for panic attacks. Barbara Cartland – where are you when I need you?

I have felt bad for a while on twitter that I have not read every tweet ever sent ever. It seems rude – you might be saying something important. I follow blogs. Sometimes I miss when you publish. I feel terrible, especially when you took the time to comment upon mine. I have texts I received this morning that I haven’t responded to yet. One of my friends who sent a text has now re-sent hers, assuming the first one did not send because I have not got back in under an hour. Skype rings, I ignore it. The phone rings, I am checking emails while I am talking on it. I have let you all down. And I STILL have not sent the thank you letters.

I am going to assume that even though the amount of communication has increased, that manners remain manners. It is surely not that hard to be polite – I just need to stop thinking and worrying, and start doing. So I have written my own guide to etiquette for this modern age, something I can perhaps pass down to the kids as an appendix to Barbara’s wise book. Here goes:

  1. I won’t read every tweet ever sent.
  2. If I am up to my armpits in children or emails, I won’t answer the phone, or your Skype call, or FaceTime call.  I’ll wait until I can give you some proper attention.
  3. If you mention me in a tweet, a comment, a Facebook message, leave a voicemail, a text, I will always ALWAYS respond. Just in my own time. Don’t worry if it takes me more that an hour. I’m not dead, and I don’t hate you.
  4. If you say anything nice about my blog, tweet, Facebook update, or recommend any of my ‘stuff’ to someone else, I will try to check your blog out too. This is not an underhand way of saying, “look at my blog and let us both increase our page views today.”. It’s just an honest thought that if you have bothered to respond to my post, it’s nice to not then blank you, albeit virtually.
  5. I will only use one form of communication at a time. This includes when actually speaking to actual people in the actual flesh, actually. (While writing this, I have my phone next to me checking every notification as it comes in. Well, no more!).
  6. If I post a query on a forum, I will think if I can help someone else on that forum with their query.
  7. If I post a post on one of your websites, I will try and look through a few other blogs that can be found there too. I might not be able to read everything published, but I will give something back. It’s kind. And also, I will enjoy it – I love what you write and I want to read more of it.
  8. I’ll make more time to look at the amazing blogs that I follow.
  9. If you start to follow me via my blog or twitter, or on whatever other social media tool there is, I’ll say thank you. If you follow me in real life, I will have you arrested.
  10. I will write the sodding thank you letters.

What have I missed? Please let me know!

One final thought. Barbara finishes her often peculiar advice with something I cannot argue with:

If you have read this book carefully you will have discovered on almost every page the magic formal for good manners. It also ensures personal success and every possible advancement. It is to say ‘thank you’ and keep on saying it.

So, I am going to end this post with a few thank yous of my own. These are the blogs of some of the people who have been so lovely about my blog and/or so helpful. If you are not listed here and you have helped me, I am sorry. Just know that in the future, I am going to get better at the simple act of saying, “Thanks”.

Jo Sandelson. Amazingly funny cartoons and the words to go with them. Thank you Jo for being so lovely to me.

Virtually Allsorts. One of the first people to follow me and always there to give a comment, a tweet and some support. The blog covers….well……virtually all sorts.

Soraya Cotwal. One of the first people to look through lots of my blog in one sitting, giving some really encouraging comments. Soraya, if you are there, I cannot find your blog anymore. I hope you get to see this post.

Mammasaurus.  She is involved in lots of initiatives to help and support bloggers. I have never seen anything she does that does not include engaging with other bloggers, and offering tools to help us all. If there is someone living the blogging etiquette dream, it is her.

Tales of a twin mum. A blogger I have met in actual real life at Mumsnet’s Blogfest in November of last year. A lovely read of a blog, covering the twin thing, her upcoming move to Oz, and other things besides.

I’m off now to find some more blogs to read, which reminds me I also need to say thank you to WordPress. They are running a challenge this month called Zero to Hero. It is today’s challenge that has prompted this post. The challenge is just to take some time to find some of the amazing blogs that are out there, and to remember that we are  part of a community. And all good communities surely need good manners, don’t they?

46 thoughts on “Thanking the unthankable: How to manage manners in the virtual world.

  1. Great post. I love the picture, too! I have often thought about the fact that sometimes, it feels like we are writing thank you card thanking people for their really lovely and thoughtful thank you cards. You could very easily end up in a vicious circle there…

    • Thank you, and what you say is so true. We went to a party the other day – took a present. The child sent us a thank you letter, via my son’s school book bag. We wanted him the know we had received his letter so I texted his mum to say thanks. So I knew that she had got my text, she sent a return text with a “xxx”. Then, the next day (we see each other in the playground most days!) we chatted about the prezzie and the thank you letter and said thanks all over again. Crazy!

  2. I have a few thank you notes to write, also. Although I’m someone who was taught to do so as a child, I have been remiss in recent years, regrettably. This year will be different! Wishing the best to you with yours. :)

  3. Great post. I am new to blogging and tweeting and my mind is also boggling with how to handle it all politely. Two of my children’s birthdays are in November, which I’m afraid means that sometimes I wait till the second one and do a dual thank you, and I’m even more afraid means this year that some people are getting a trio of thanks, post-Christmas. Probably by end-Jan. I bought the lovely thank you cards in October! I am intrigued by Barbara Cartland’s “no face cream in bed” advice. Presume it must be from an age where face cream did not melt invisibly into one’s face, and also when there were enough servants around that one was not too knackered to fulfil one’s conjugal pledge.

    • Those end of year birthdays are utter killers aren’t they! I think a triple thank you whammy would be kind of nice to receive though. Barbara’s problems are certainly different to mine; “I once went to a dinner party where there were three Dukes, two Ambassadors and two distinguished visitors from overseas. It was a flop!”. Poor Babs.
      PS she also says men who have facial hair that grows too fast should shave before bed time – clearly nobody in her house was ever knackered!

  4. Dear cogitoergomum, what a great post! I really enjoyed it. I agree with you on the letter writing. I think these days there is so much electronic communication that receiving an actual letter, card or handwritten note in the mail is a real treat. I like your additional rules – especially #9.

  5. Over Christmas, the 15 year old was sociable all the time, by which I mean on her iPad, snap-chatting.

    I read that Twitter is like a conversation in a pub. You drop in and out, and can’t read back all the conversations which happened when you were out.

    I do that with letters, too. I think of how wonderful I could make it, and so do not send a single line.

  6. That twitter analogy is great. It explains why I get so anxious about it – when in a pub, I want to be involved in every conversation. I must be quite annoying to go out with.

    I am glad it is not just me has the thank you letter issues!

  7. It is so difficult sometimes isn’t it to keep on top of everything. Most of us have so much going on it is difficult to know where you are! I am trying to take a step back from some things and concentrate on just a few in the hope that I can keep on top and not ‘miss’ anyone out!

  8. These are great tips. I could use some of them, particularly to thank people for their comments etc. I have noticed in the era of the Internet and social media, that I am as socially awkward here as I am in real life. For example, I’ve gotten in trouble on blogs for saying my hones topinion on a product when it turned out the wblogger had been compensated for the review. It’s not oeven okay to say you are not a fan of mashed potatoes when someone posts an otherwise nice recipe with mashed potatoes. I prefer honesty to dipolmacy, actually.

    • I think the upsetting people with honesty point is a good one to make. I think there must be room for honesty, although we can probably be honest in quite a diplomatic way. It’s nice to get constructive feedback or debate topics sometimes. But never, ever question mashed potatoes. I will add that to the post as guideline number 11!

  9. Lovely post! I always try to follow these too, go and find and comment back to people if they have taken the time to visit etc. I will admit sometimes I might miss a couple of people here and there, but not intentional!

    • I definitely miss a few, most often when I think I have responded on my phone but the connection has failed. In the spirit of the post, thank you for your kind comment.

  10. I have similar quandaries to yours and I am really trying very hard this year to be a better part of the blogging community. It is so difficult to keep on top of everything and it does ring true with me that friends have also resent texts because I don’t reply immediately – it really isn’t that long ago that all we had was a landline and you could go for a good couple of days ignoring the phone if time didn’t allow for a chat. Your rules seem fairly sensible to me, apart from the ‘thanking for following’ – I’m afraid that I really don’t have time to do that personally and I hate the automated ‘thank-yous’ so if you do follow me, thank you x

    • Hmmm. Perhaps haven’t thought through the thanks for following thing. Although, to be honest my numbers are currently manageable enough to manage it :-/ . I had no idea of the automated thank you tools. First thoughts lead me to think they may kind of defeat the purpose of a thank you a little.

  11. I really love your list and completely agree. We live in a world where people can get hold of you 24/7 in a manner of different ways. I have lost count of the times when the house phone has rung off, then my mobile has started, then I get a facebook message, then my mobile rings me again to give me the voicemail. As much as I love it, sometimes I just want to step away from all the tech and have 5 minutes peace. Pleases and thank you’s cost nothing. Oh yes, and I promise not to stalk you, but I will follow your blog if that’s ok :-) x

  12. Great post. Life is so fast and I’m very conscious of the fact that we haven’t written all of our thank you letters yet. I feel terrible about it and it really is heavy on my shoulders…I must get it done…

  13. Great post. I am terrible at thank you letters but tbh I’ve decided there are more important things in life and so content myself with saying thanks to everyone at the time of receipt and that will have to do. I do think manners on social media is important and I think you’ve pretty much nailed that with your list. The end of Number 7 made me laugh out loud ;)

  14. What a wonderful post! I don’t think it’s possible to keep up with everything, and I always feel terrible that I’m not doing enough to communicate with people properly. I think THAT is what we’ll have to teach our teenagers these days – try not to over-commit, always say thank you, and I would add, say sorry whenever you need to too.

    • Don’t over commit- how spot on – I will definitely remember to pass that bit of advice on to the kids. And yes, could not agree more on the saying sorry thing.

  15. Fantastic post – thank you for writing this as I often wrestle internally with the whole manners on the internet things sometimes too! I try and “give” a lot, I run support forums and am involved on a couple of steering groups for organisations which also support my family. But equally I have “needy” times too, and ask more than I give of others on those days. it’s about a balance, and remembering basic good manners.

    • Nothing wrong with a needy day here and there – well, that’s my view anyway! Sounds like you do a lot of giving and you deserve a bit from others now and again. Balance – good point – most things seem to come back to that, don’t they?

  16. I make it a principle to put ‘Real Life’ first and deal with things that way. It means not being able to keep up on SM but that’s a losing battle anyhow. I hate that feeling of being behind with it all, all the time. At least when our thank you letters were done (and I don’t think texts are enough with older relatives) then it felt like an achievement. All the rest never stops. I like your principles!

    • Thank you Anya. I like your point about putting real life first. I wonder whether or not that line will become more or less blurry for our kids, and their kids, in the future.

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