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Netiquette for the cellphone and cyberspace age

BY Danton Remoto
Views and analysis
02/09/2009 11:50 PM

The Philippines is the texting capital of the world, with at least 70 million text messages sent every day. Internet usage in the country is also rising, with at least 20 percent of the population having access to the Internet, whether at home, in the office, or in the Internet cafes.

Thus, it behooves everybody to know etiquette for the Age of the Cell phone and Cyberspace. We can telescope them together and call them Netiquette -- a portmanteau of “network etiquette” that can be the convention on electronic forums (Usenet, mailing lists, live chat, and Internet forums). It can also be extended for use of the cell phone users.

The fact that 70 millions text messages are circulated in the Philippines suggests that we are comfortable with this medium. The cell phone is like a third party between us and the receiver of the message. Therefore, since we Filipinos are most comfortable when messages are sent through an “intermediary,” we feel a certain kind of freedom in sending even highly emotional or personal messages via the cell phone.

Moreover, the rising use of the Internet as a form of communication has short-cut the time needed for the response to be received. But we need to have Netiquette, because faster does not necessarily mean better. The point here is that we would rather have friends than enemies in the Internet. Following a few basic rules will make the newbies – those new to the medium – navigate better this brave, new world. These rules come from Virginia Shea’s book called Netiquette.

The first rule is that remember you are texting or writing to people. When we communicate electronically, we see only a screen. No facial gestures, expressions and vocal inflections would guide us. Thus, we run the risk of misinterpreting someone else’s comment.

Writer and MacIntosh evangelist Guy Kawasaki has a useful test for anything you want to send via the cell phone or the Internet: “Would I say this to the person’s face?” If the answer is no, we have to rewrite and read the message again. Send only the message or mail that you would be most comfortable with. Moreover, remember that when you communicate through cyberspace, your words are written and stored somewhere, where you have no control over them. This is true also with blogs and electronic discussion groups. So be careful with those words. And remember that there is not one person reading your message; perhaps there are thousands, and possibly millions.

Online, real life

The second rule is to follow the same standards of behavior online that you would follow in real life. In short, in both your real and virtual lives, you should have the same pattern of behavior. Because the chance of getting caught in the Internet is slim, some people use this as a license to violate the standard of ethics or behavior.

The third rule is to respect other people’s time and bandwidth. We must make sure that the time people spend reading our text messages or e-mail is not time wasted. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that you never stand on the same river twice. Time has elapsed the moment one second has ticked past.

What does bandwidth mean? It is the “information-carrying capacity of the wires and channels that connect everyone in cyberspace. . . {It} is also sometimes used to refer to the storage capacity of a host system.” Therefore, if we press a button and send the same message ten times to the e-group, then we are wasting the bandwidth. Moreover, do not forward messages indiscriminately because it is a cheap and fast way to send information. Think first if the recipient would welcome the e-mail and find it useful.

Look good

The fourth rule is to make yourself look good. Unless you have a 3G cell phone and using a video call to your friend, he or she cannot see you. The same goes for the Internet. Therefore, you will be judged by the quality of your writing. This means being concise, sensible and correct in both spelling and grammar. For these qualities, you may have to review and read The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, available at most good bookstores.

Avoid long words and, therefore, avoid reading a thesaurus. And Anglo-Saxon words are still the best, because they are crisp, short, and to the point. Moreover, you must be polite and pleasant. This will also shield you from being a flame-bait, or the subject of abuse in the Internet. Moreover, avoid using ALL CAPS, which is the equivalent of shouting and yelling just to gain attention.

The fifth rule is positive: share your expert knowledge. Virginia Shea is right on the dot when she wrote: “The strength of cyberspace is its numbers. The reason asking questions online works is that a lot of knowledgeable people are reading the questions. And if even a few of them offer intelligent answers, the sum total of world knowledge also increases. The Internet itself was founded and grew because scientists wanted to share information. Gradually, the rest of us got in on the act.”


The sixth rule is to help keep flame wars under control. “Flaming” is the term used when people express strong opinions without holding back on their emotions. A flame is alike a mail bomb. Flaming has a place in the Internet, which after all is a democratic space. But Netiquette frowns on the perpetuation of flame wars – two or three people venting their ire on each other, making the other people in the e-group bored. It is also a waste of bandwidth.

The seventh rule is to respect other people’s privacy. Do not forward cell-phone numbers and e-mail addresses without asking the owner. This goes the same, of course, to text messages and e-mail. Corollary to this is the eighth rule: do not abuse your power. The keeper of the keys in cyberspace are the system administrators, experts in every office, and the wizards on MUDs (multi-use dungeons) of every system. Private e-mail is sacred, and should never be read by those with access to them.

The ninth rule is to forgive other people’s mistakes. Mistakes are like noses: everybody has them. So we must forgive the network newbie, or sender of the e-mail sent by mistake. Whether it is a spelling or grammar error, a hare-brained question or opinion, or an overly long answer – have the patience of Job. If it’s a small error, let it slip, like water down the back of a duck. If you feel you must respond, please do so with tact and good manners. You may send the correction by private e-mail rather than in public. And never be self-righteous or arrogant, even if you are right

The tenth rule is to know the recipient of your text message or e-mail. You may send a fragmented text message, with words and spelling broken down, if the recipient is a young person or somebody used to receiving it. If the person sends you a text message with complete words and iron-clad grammar, then by all means, you must respond in the same vein. Otherwise, they might think you do not know your manners and manners – as we all know – make the man, or the woman.


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