My phone vibrated on the coffee table one evening and I picked it up to see that I had received a text message from my 25 year old son Caleb. As he now lives in Sydney and I hadn’t spoken to him for a week or so, I was keen to see what was going on in Caleb’s world. The message began simply with the word “Hey” and was followed by a brief sentence asking me for some information that he needed to renew his passport. After reading the text I was momentarily taken aback and said out loud to my husband who was also in the room, “What’s with the hey?”. My husband was unmoved and remained focused on the football game that he was watching on the television. I quickly replied to the text providing Caleb with the requested details. I continued to sit there quietly, feeling slightly unnerved about the lack of proper salutation in his message. After all, I always begin any electronic communication with “Hi (insert name)” or on more formal occasions “Good Morning/Afternoon (insert name)” and thus considered my son’s abrupt “Hey” to be bordering on disrespectful.
As our son, my husband and I had taught Caleb to be polite and courteous in conversations, whether face to face, written, electronic or otherwise. This lapse in what I perceived to be basic electronic etiquette had me questioning my own perceptions of what is appropriate language to use in text messages. Are there new rules of which I have not been made aware? Is there perhaps some sort of millennial text message handbook outlining these acceptable protocols? Or, am I right in being concerned about the abrupt nature of this greeting?
A few days later my husband and I were at a small gathering where there were guests representing a variety of different age groups. As well as another middle aged couple, there was also a couple in their early thirties and other guests in their late teens and early twenties. With the short text message from Caleb still fresh in my mind, I proposed the question to the table – “Is it okay to start a text conversation with ‘Hey’?” The response was immediate with many of the guests passionately presenting their thoughts on the topic. “It depends on the context” was a common retort, with “who you are sending the message to” and the “nature of the message” highlighted as determining variables. When I mentioned the context of the conversation between Caleb and I, the table was divided. The younger people unanimously agreed that “Hey” was most definitely an acceptable way to address someone with that level of familiarity. However, those of us with more years behind us were equally committed to the idea that regardless of whom you are communicating, a minimum level of respect should be afforded.
Still not having a satisfactory level of closure on this topic, I decided to turn to the internet for advice, surmising that surely there had been others who had been grappling with this weighty issue before me. I was not disappointed. With just one click, the google search engine opened up its virtual gateway, providing me with access to a plethora of information about text etiquette. To my delight I found that many of the top sites were supportive of my stance on the subject; “begin your initial text message with a salutation so that the recipient is sure the text is intended for him or her using Hello…Hi…. Good Morning etc.” I felt immediate vindication as I read this, reassured by the fact that there were definitely others out there who agreed with me. However, as I looked closer at the authors of these particular etiquette blogs, not surprisingly they were all middle aged women – just like me.
It was then I remembered the words of one of the young people at the dinner party who was emphatic in her position that even though I may have perceived the text as impolite or disrespectful, people of her generation actually didn’t intend it to come across that way. In fact to a young person, it is actually a complement to be addressed in such an informal way as it demonstrates a closeness of relationship. This caused me to think about the nature of electronic communication in general and how easy it is to become hurt and offended as we do not have the benefit of so many other important variables such visual cues, voice intonation and emotion – not to mention the cultural and generational variations that exist between communicants.
My conclusion from this particular exercise can be summarised simply with this paraphrase of the golden rule; “Text unto others as you would have them text unto you.” If we all use this filter in our messaging, remembering to show the same level of respect to others that we ourselves would like to receive, I believe it would go a long way in helping us to avoid unneeded angst as we navigate the rapidly changing word of electronic communication.
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets”. Matthew 7:12