Texting etiquette tips for dummies and smarties

We bought Mom an iPhone last month so she will be able to communicate with us when she travels. No, this isn’t a story about a senior being technologically ignorant; she is a decades-long user of computers and is better at diagnosing her Mac than I am. But the phone’s apps and features required an impromptu teach-in in her living room, and that reminded me that she is being initiated into the world of text messaging.

She already knows how to talk on the phone, of course. Who doesn’t? But if you have never sent or received text messages before, it might not be intuitive what to do, how to do it, and when to stop doing it. Here’s some help.

With texting, it might not be intuitive what to do, how to do it, and when to stop doing it.

When most people think about texting, they might have ideas of acronyms such as ROTFL or LOL or BTW come to mind. Those shortenings of commonly used phrases — “rolling on the floor laughing,” “laugh out loud,” or “by the way,” respectively — do come in handy, but they are not the key part of texting.

Behavior is. Too much technology that allegedly gives individuals more power at their fingertips has the absurd side effect of making them more socially inward focused. They’re not crafting their message for their specific audience; they’re not thinking how other people will read or misread what they write; they’re not seeking input as much as they are seeking an audience.

So you end up with the texter who sends too many messages, not even waiting for responses between a battery of questions or comments.

Or you get the texting-challenged person with a peninsula area code who keeps texting me, thinking I’m someone else, and keeps doing it even though certainly he or she must have some rational expectation that the person being texted would respond to such specific texts as “When are you coming to pick me up?” When I don’t respond (I was too wary at first that it was a scam or an ad campaign, neither of which is unheard of in texting but should be), the sender sent a couple follow-up messages. This occurred sporadically over a matter of weeks; when I finally responded that the person had the wrong phone number, I received no further messages. Etiquette tip #465: When someone tells you you’ve got the wrong number, respond with, “Oh, sorry for bothering you. Thank you.” Grade school-taught manners still work.

So what else should you do when you text? Make your messages as short as possible, while still getting as much of the pertinant information across as possible.

You can send a text to more than one person; if you do that, it is easy to respond to texts without remembering that other people are reading them. That can be embarrassing.

Try to spell correctly, but don’t fret about the occasional misspelling; texting is informal and isn’t expected to be perfect.

Don’t overload your messages with too many acronyms. They can be helpful or humorous when used appropriately; when overused, it becomes annoying — and it increases the risk that you’ll be using one that your recipient doesn’t understand.

Don’t advertise by text. Text advertisers deserve a special pit of hell. Depending on a person’s phone service plan, they might be paying to receive texts, and they don’t want to be paying for ads.

If you are a criminal mastermind or political revolutionary, be aware that your text messages are not private. They are being catalogued somewhere, just waiting for prosecutors to throw them in your face at your trial for embezzlement or whatever. So don’t text anything you don’t want your spouse, the government, or 18-year-old hackers to read.

Better yet, don’t be a criminal.

Asynchronous communication such as texting means you can send your message and the other person might not read it right at that minute — they might have stepped away from their computer to answer the front door or set down their cell phone to have a conversation with someone in their office. If they don’t respond right away, don’t follow up with 10 more text messages pinging their computer; if you have something desperate to communicate, pick up the phone and make a voice call like a real human.

And my mother? She’s doing just fine, texting on her phone more than she talks on it, and spelling be damned.

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