The digital etiquette generation game: is texting rude? Is voicemail for dinosaurs? And how should you sign off an email?

Many pundits are arguing about the etiquette of modern communications. Three members of the same family explain how they connect

Timothy Pallett, 76, grandfather

'I wouldn’t put anything online that I believe to be secret'

There are things you get from a letter which you can’t get from an email. In my desk I have the last letter my first wife, Chloe’s grandma, sent to me. I’ve kept it all these years and I’ll never chuck it away. I recognise her handwriting as though I received it this morning. That familiarity is lost in an email.

I use the telephone to arrange to meet my chums. If I want to talk to someone, the first thing I’d do is ring them. Failing that, I’d send them an email. I might do that writing on the telephone thing, but to be honest, I rarely send texts.

It amazes me when people send me a text but don’t answer when I phone back. They’ve had the phone in their hand not two minutes before. But usually I phone my chums, they answer and that’s about the strength of it.

I’m not quite sure how to do a personal communication on Facebook, but I think I’ve done it before. I usually just read other people’s entries instead.  I’ve never tweeted in my life, I don’t even know if I have Twitter. My mum always said, “Never write anything down you wouldn’t mind the whole world reading.” I think exactly the same about Facebook. I wouldn’t put anything online that I believe to be secret.  It applies to voicemail too. I wouldn’t record anything which I wouldn’t mind the whole world hearing.

I use my iPad for emails, and this FaceTime thing is great. I just put Miranda’s email address in and job done. I live in Spain for half the year, so the iPad means we can talk to family while we are out there. It’s terrific!

When I was at university, my friends and I would phone each other up (using a telephone box was commonplace), make arrangements and then stick to them. There are so many forms of communication now. I think this means people make last minute plans, or they make arrangements which they simply don’t keep.

Miranda Hamilton, 51, mother

'Texts blend conversation with written communication'

My mother wrote letters to me every week when I was at university, which I loved. She liked writing as well. Although I enjoy writing to Chloe almost every day on Facebook, the pleasure of receiving letters has been lost along the way, which is a shame.  A thank-you letter is the only reason to send a letter nowadays.               

I like writing, so sending Chloe a Facebook message gives me a chance to reflect on what I want to say. I am able to incorporate everything into a piece of text without being interrupted. When we talk together, be it on the phone or in person, we all talk over one another. It’s easier if I write it all down.  Texts and Facebook messages are an on-going conversation, rather than written communication. In a way, they have the formality of spoken interaction, with the semiotics of written language. We’re blending these two forms of communication.

Whenever I see an interesting update on Chloe’s Facebook profile, I’ll think, “Wow that’s brilliant!” and I’ll text or phone her. But I’m aware my friendship with her on Facebook is a privilege, not a right. I know at the press of a button she could de-friend me.

Before the days of Facebook my friends and I would send each other letters. Gradually we all signed up to Facebook, except one.  But Facebook can be a force for good. I was recently reunited with a long lost friend on Facebook. We met when we were 15 and exchanged letters for years before life took over and we lost contact. A year ago, she found me on Facebook and our friendship was re-kindled.

Good communication is wholly dependent on how reliable the other person is. Chloe is always only a text away. My father, however, often doesn’t have his phone on him, so the best way to contact him is to call his landline.

Chloe Hamilton, 22, daughter

'It’s unusual for me to use my phone to call someone'

I’m a child of the digital age, so social media has seeped into every nook and cranny of my life. I can access Facebook, Twitter and both my email accounts from my iPhone, and with the Facebook phone app I can update at the bar, on the bus, or in the office.

But social media is so demanding. While it’s comforting to know wherever I go I’ll be kept abreast of my friend’s relationship status or videos of her cats, I can’t help thinking I’d manage fine without this information.

I decided to “log off” for two weeks last summer and, believe it or not, the world kept spinning. Instead of checking my Facebook page first thing in the morning, I could be showered, dressed, fed and watered, and ready to crack on with my day in under an hour.

It’s unusual, however, for me to use my phone actually to call someone. The only person I call regularly is my mum. We can chat for hours. So rarely do I ring anyone other than my mum that I once ended a telephone interview with ‘Love you lots. Bye.’ I’m also guilty of not sending letters. The tradition of thank you notes died out with my childhood. I received a love letter once, which was very exciting but never repeated.

If I want to talk to my Granddad I’ll call his landline. He doesn’t pick up Facebook messages, although occasionally he’ll surprise me with an email.

Email sign-offs trip me up. I can deliberate for ages over whether to end an email with “best wishes” or “kind regards”, because I don’t know how formal an email should be. I once, accidentally, signed off an email to a university tutor with “xxx”. Now I stick to “thanks” or “cheers”.

I like the brevity of Twitter, and it’s good practice for a journalist to have an online presence. But it’s not a reliable method of communication.

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