Your Quaint Notions of Courtesy Are Outdated

Are you in the habit of sending a text or email just to say “thanks?” Nick Bilton says to cut it out because it is a waste of his time. So does Baratunde Thurston: “I have decreasing amounts of tolerance for unnecessary communication because it is a burden and a cost.”

So what is “unnecessary communication,” and should you cut it out?

Thank-you notes

Bilton hates text messages and emails that say nothing more than “thank you,” reasoning that it does nothing more than waste his time. I agree, but possibly not for the same reasons. I just don’t think a quick “thanks” by text or email is meaningful. It’s like saying happy birthday to your spouse on Facebook and thinking that counts. If you are actually thankful, send an actual, physical thank-you note.

Let me Google that for you

Thurston hates it when people ask him questions they could more easily find on their own, using Google:

a friend asked, by text message, about his schedule for the South by Southwest festival. “I don’t even know how to respond to that,” he said. “The answer would be so long. There’s no way I’m going to type out my schedule in a text.”

Well, I agree that is ridiculous. Use a little common sense when asking questions. If you can get that information easily yourself, do it. This goes for weather and store hours as well as conference schedules. Or don’t be surprised when you get a passive-aggressive Let Me Google That For You link.


I hate voicemail. Sitting and listening to rambling phone messages is an annoying waste of time. According to Wikipedia, voicemail is over 40 years old. All that a voicemail should contain is an identity, a call-back number, and a quick message. If 40 years of voicemail have proved anything, it is that appropriate voicemail etiquette is beyond the grasp of our species.

Fortunately, it is free and easy to re-route voicemail through Google Voice, which will transcribe them well enough for you to get the gist of the message without having to listen to it. This effectively eliminates the voicemail problem.

The “call me” email

The spread of anti-voicemail sentiment has bred an even worse phenomenon, the “call me” email. This is my personal pet peeve, but it seems to be a particular favorite of lawyers. If you want to talk to someone on the phone, pick up the damn phone. If you get voicemail, send an email with some content, or just try calling again later. Sending a “call me” email is just stupid.

If you need more guidance, the Atlantic Wire has a confusing-to-read guide to digital etiquette. GigaOm correctly identifies the source of the problem: too many ways to communicate. Do we really need the mail, email, voicemail, text messages, phone calls, Facebook chat, Facebook messages, Google Chat, Google+ messages, Twitter, Twitter DMs, blog comments, other blogs’ comments, and on and on.

That’s why I route everything I can through email, and get to everything else if and when I feel like it.



  1. Avatar Paul says:

    Sorry what? Thank you e-mails are a waste of time but sending a physical thank you card is not? In what alternate universe does that make sense? The only people I send physical thank you notes to are my grandparents who don’t use computers. Everyone else if they want a thank you note it is going to be via e-mail or not at all.

    It is easy for someone to send you a quick note saying “Thanks for sharing that article with me” or “I enjoyed meeting with you” without adding more physical junk to the recycling bin. You are going to read it once and then toss it so why bother with a physical note?

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      “Thanks for sharing that article” is exactly the kind of email that is a waste of everyone’s time.

      • Avatar LawyerAnonymous says:

        Really? So we are just supposed to not thank people for things (in ways that don’t waste paper)? You make this seem like a “you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t” kind of situation.

        Person A sends an article to person B. Person B says nothing. Person A feels like person B is an ingrate.

        Person A sends an article to person B. Person B emails a quick thank you. Person A reads thank you and gets annoyed because that thank you took 2 seconds of person A’s life.

        Person A sends article to person B. Person B writes a thank you letter to person A. Person A feels as if person B is an ingrate until person A receives the letter 6 days later. Person A immediately throws person B’s thank you in the trash.


        This article also seems fairly bi-polar:
        Don’t email me. Waste of space.
        Don’t email me with information you could have called me about.
        Don’t leave a voice message giving me information.
        Don’t leave a voice message giving me no information.
        If you do leave a voice message giving me information that you could have emailed me, I will use Google voice to transcribe it into a readable form.

        In other words, you hate communicating.

  2. Avatar Lukasz Gos says:

    Sorry, Sam, but I disagree. I find the whole not wasting time or space for tiny courtesies notion disturbing. It may be connected with a growing desensetisation to discourtesy in business and in general life. I am one of those people to whom, “Do not reply to this message. Your reply will not be read,” reads like a slap on the face. Or refusing to take time to reply to candidates but taking sweet time and precious space to communicate that, “we reserve the right to contact only the select few who are worth our notice.” That’s where we are headed if we keep cutting down on expressions of courtesy merely because of the absence of substantive business content in them. As for Baratunde Thurston’s statement, I find it somewhat rude and slightly egotic when applied to e-mail or text thanks. There is little difference between that attitude and outsourcing the reading of snail mail thank you letters to a secretary because they’re a waste of Mr/Ms MoreImportantThanYou’s precious time.

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