R u ok w tx­ting yr boss 2 say yr sick? Is it okay to say ‘Soz that yr sis died’? Lucy Corry in­ves­ti­gates text eti­quette.

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When her sis­ter died sud­denly in June, the last thing Casey Scan­lon wanted was a se­ries of sym­pa­thetic phone calls. In­stead, her hus­band ad­vised friends and fam­ily to send her a text.

“I knew my mum and dad weren’t up to talk­ing and I didn’t have the ca­pac­ity to hear mul­ti­ple peo­ple pass on their con­do­lences ei­ther,” the West­port woman says.

“I ac­tu­ally re­ally dis­like talk­ing on the phone and avoid it at all costs, but at the same time it’s nice to know that peo­ple are think­ing of you. I guess tex­ting is like the mod­ern greet­ing or sym­pa­thy card that would have been posted or popped in the let­ter­box. It’s an un­ob­tru­sive way of pass­ing on a mes­sage with­out in­vad­ing some­one’s space.”

For many New Zealan­ders, tex­ting or us­ing so­cial me­dia mes­sag­ing tools to com­mu­ni­cate has be­come a way of life. Once upon a time peo­ple were urged to “say it with flow­ers”. Now you’re more likely to get a text punc­tu­ated with flo­ral emo­jis. We send about 20 mil­lion texts per day on the Spark net­work, and another 16 mil­lion on Voda­fone. An in­creas­ing num­ber are “mo­bile-ter­mi­nated mes­sages” — au­to­mated texts that send codes re­lated to pass­word changes and bank­ing trans­fers or ap­point­ment reminders from doc­tors, den­tists and hair­dressers.

Should you be un­lucky enough to be ap­pear­ing in the District Court, you can even sign up for a text re­minder from the Min­istry of Jus­tice so you don’t miss the hear­ing (pre­sum­ably those texts don’t come with a thumbs-up or hand­cuffs emoji). But are we too re­liant on tex­ting? Is it re­ally okay to text some­one your sym­pa­thies when some­thing bad hap­pens? Or text your boss to say you’re sick?

Man­ners guru Jodie Tem­pero recog­nises the ease of tex­ting, but yearns for the days when peo­ple picked up the phone to speak to each other.

“I think an el­e­ment of re­spect was lost when the con­ve­nience of tex­ting be­came avail­able,” she says. “So much is lost in trans­la­tion when you hide be­hind a phone or com­puter, whether that’s to do with dat­ing, con­do­lences or some­thing as sim­ple as telling your part­ner you’ll be home late. To me, text mes­sag­ing has a soul-less en­ergy.”

Tem­pero, who runs man­ners cour­ses in Auck­land, be­lieves we need to think be­fore hit­ting the send but­ton.

“We’re all busy and tex­ting is a great tool to use to get your mes­sage across quickly. How­ever, if it’s con­do­lences you’re want­ing to send, or an ar­gu­ment you’re try­ing to solve, my ad­vice is to type the mes­sage and sit on it for a while be­fore you send it so you give your­self time to re­flect on what it is you want to ac­tu­ally say.”

HER CHIL­DREN have all left home now, but Emily Holmes is proud that the tex­ting rules she in­sti­gated a decade ago are still up­held.

Back in those days, Holmes mainly used her mo­bile to keep tabs on her teenagers, warn­ing them that they had to re­spond im­me­di­ately to her texts en­quir­ing as to their where­abouts “or I’d start wor­ry­ing that they were dead on the mo­tor­way”.

But when her daugh­ter Laura de­cided to move to Christchurch, aged 16, another set of text mes­sages took on a life of their own. When one of Laura’s friends dis­cov­ered she’d left town, she sent a text to a class­mate that read ‘Laura has gone for­ever and I’m dev­as­tated’.

Be­fore long, the ru­mour mill was ac­tively churn­ing out the mes­sage that Laura was dead. Luck­ily, a scep­ti­cal friend rang Laura, to find text-based ru­mours of her death had been greatly ex­ag­ger­ated.

“Laura rang me im­me­di­ately af­ter that and said, ‘hi Mum, there’s this ru­mour go­ing around that I’ve killed my­self, but don’t worry, I’m fine’,” Holmes, now a fa­cil­i­ta­tor work­ing in dis­pute res­o­lu­tion in Welling­ton, re­mem­bers.

“Af­ter that I al­ways said to my kids, ‘if you’ve got some­thing im­por­tant to say, don’t say it in a text!’

Tex­ting can go wrong, but it’s faster to get to the point when it does, says An­drea Calude, se­nior lec­turer in lin­guis­tics at the Univer­sity of Waikato. Calude, her­self a keen tex­ter, says mes­sag­ing of­fers users more free­dom and flex­i­bil­ity in how they can ex­press them­selves.

“If some­thing’s un­clear in a text it’s easy for the per­son to come back and say, ‘what do you mean?’. You don’t have to be as pre­cise.”

Calude says tex­ting oc­cu­pies a mid­dle-ground be­tween writ­ten and spo­ken lan­guage, mak­ing it more like writ­ten speech.

“For a long time writ­ten lan­guage was con­sid­ered bet­ter qual­ity than spo­ken lan­guage be­cause writ­ing was a proxy for ed­u­ca­tion. No one com­mended you for speak­ing be­cause you learned it au­to­mat­i­cally. But speech evolves first and it’s way more ex­cit­ing and in­no­va­tive. Aca­demics like me speak how they write, which is why lec­tures are bor­ing. Tex­ting is the re­verse, it’s writ­ing like we speak. Maybe that’s why peo­ple em­brace it.”

Calude ex­pects her stu­dents to write es­says in for­mal lan­guage be­cause she thinks it’s more ap­pro­pri­ate, but says re­search proves that young peo­ple have no trouble with iden­ti­fy­ing the right reg­is­ter to use. She says ac­ci­den­tal tex­ting prob­a­bly causes more prob­lems.

“I’ve never re­ceived any­thing re­ally shock­ing by text, but I have sent the wrong text to the wrong per­son. I thought I was tex­ting my hus­band about some­one but I sent it to the next name in my address book. It wasn’t re­ally bad, but it was very awk­ward.” SEVENTY-SOME­THING Edith Cur­wood has never mis-texted or re­ceived any­thing un­to­ward, and she thinks tex­ting is “a lovely way to com­mu­ni­cate”. While her hus­band is “to­tally tech­nol­ogy-

We’d only been to­gether for a few months and I de­cided to send a What­sApp mes­sage to break up in­stead of ring­ing her. Kyle Bell

shy” and she has a few con­tem­po­raries who haven’t em­braced tex­ting, she loves the speed, con­ve­nience and con­nec­tion that it of­fers.

“You can have quite a con­ver­sa­tion with tex­ting. It would be to­tally in­hibit­ing if I couldn’t do it.”

The Welling­ton re­tiree reg­u­larly texts her grand­chil­dren (“I don’t think they use text lan­guage with me be­cause they prob­a­bly think I wouldn’t un­der­stand it”) and isn’t afraid to use ab­bre­vi­ated words in­stead of fully spell­ing them out. How­ever, she agrees that big or se­ri­ous news is best passed on in per­son or in a phone call.

“In tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions you can hear some­one’s re­ac­tions to what you’re say­ing and you lose that in a text. If you’re close to the per­son, it’s bet­ter to talk to them on the phone or in some other way. Tex­ting is still a re­ally good way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing though and I would hate to do with­out it. Not be­ing able to text cuts you off.”

Kate Larmer, Voda­fone’s learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment man­ager, HR Cen­tres of Ex­per­tise (TLDR: she’s in HR), says tex­ting is a nor­mal part of busi­ness at the gi­ant telco. She says the com­pany has no for­mal pol­icy about staff tex­ting to say they won’t be at work.

“It de­pends on the team that you’re in, and on the re­la­tion­ship you have with your boss,” she says. “If the re­la­tion­ship is based on trust, it doesn’t mat­ter how you com­mu­ni­cate. One of my team texted me this morn­ing to say they wouldn’t be in and I’m com­pletely fine with that. They man­age their own work­loads and I know they would call me if they needed me to pick some­thing up, but a text is fine. How­ever, they have other rules in other parts of the busi­ness be­cause they op­er­ate dif­fer­ently.”

Larmer says tex­ting, along with What­sApp mes­sag­ing and other so­cial tools, is widely used across the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

“It’s pretty com­mon prac­tice here to send some­one, even a di­rec­tor, a text to say ‘I’ve sent you an email, can you read it?’ or ‘I’m go­ing to be five min­utes late’. It helps to cre­ate a more in­for­mal re­la­tion­ship with peo­ple, which works well in our en­vi­ron­ment.

“That said, there are some con­ver­sa­tions that are ab­so­lutely best had face-to-face, or over the phone. The good thing about texts is that they’re easy; you don’t have to front up. But for more chal­leng­ing con­ver­sa­tions, tex­ting is not okay.”

Kyle Bell knows that only too well, af­ter mak­ing a huge tac­ti­cal er­ror in the early days of What­sApp mes­sag­ing. The Rhythm & Vines mar­ket­ing and part­ner­ships di­rec­tor had just come back from an epic trip to Europe in 2010 when he de­cided to call it quits with the woman he’d been see­ing.

“We’d only been to­gether for a few months and I de­cided to send a What­sApp mes­sage to break up in­stead of ring­ing her,” he re­calls with em­bar­rass­ment.

“I wasn’t in the best men­tal state at the time and it was cer­tainly frowned upon, but I’ve made up for it mas­sively. We now have a daugh­ter and a life to­gether, so I def­i­nitely wouldn’t want to be do­ing that again.”

Bell’s life is all about dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion — he uses What­sApp to keep in touch with mates and talks to his par­ents on Face­book Messenger. Work con­ver­sa­tions are con­ducted via Slack (“you don’t nec­es­sar­ily want your work­mates’ per­sonal phone num­bers or What­sApp ac­counts, do you?”).

He’s learned from his rookie mes­sag­ing mis­take and now thinks there are far greater com­mu­ni­ca­tion wrongs to right.

“I hate voice mes­sages. I’d pre­fer a text to say ‘hey, can you give me a call, it’s ur­gent’ rather than have to lis­ten to a voice mes­sage that you can’t hear prop­erly. Voice mes­sages are hor­ri­ble. As wrong as I was, at least I didn’t leave a break-up voice mes­sage.”

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