Adventures in Learning

Start an SIP in Etiquette

Photo by Yanalya –

First published on December 2, 2020
[Tonight’s blog post is not about money, honey.  It’s about systematic investment planning in Online Etiquette – something where I can’t predict growth and sustainability, but I can pretend that it’s a value proposition especially in these days of WFH and online conferencing.]

Wake up call

Imagine my surprise when I glanced through half-open eyelids at my list of e-mails early in the morning.  Guilty as hell about checking my phone before I get out of bed, I give it a quick glance before locating my spectacles.  And so, the surprise when I saw a mail from the Bank that apparently read “Start an SIP in Etiquette”.  It didn’t.  On closer look, through refracted rays, I read it again.  It was boringly predictable – Start an SIP in Equities, it said.  I clicked Delete and it sailed into the virtual bin.

But then this got me thinking.  With the enforced use of technology and everything going either “online” or “e-” it’s only natural that a new etiquette will need to emerge, if only to give status to the e-snobs amongst us (guilty as charged again).  What if we could now define the things that work for us online, the people we enjoy being with, and the people we don’t?  And why.  Wouldn’t that give rise to the need for outlining what is good online etiquette  and what is not?  So, herewith my views based on real instances in my online adventures.

Carpet Bombing

One of my closest friends said this to me today, “Now you realize the difference between carpet bombing and targeted shooting”.  He was referring to my fairly painful experience with a couple of Broadcast Lists I have been running for some years now.  One of them was called “Friends” and the other was “Leslie’s List”.  Because I wanted to reduce the amount of unsolicited sharing — of forwards and phone numbers — within the group, I triumphantly created the “lists”.  These would function as one-way communication and would convey my thoughts to everyone.  I sent out a few carefully curated posts, sometimes excellent forwards, sometimes ideas I had, to each of the lists based on the notion I had of the people in them. There were 246 people in one list and 253 in the other.  Carpet bombing best describes it.

Egg on Face

Egged on by regular feedback from a miniscule number of these people, I started sending them links to my blog posts, my Facebook pages, posters announcing regular music programs and other trivia, keeping my rule of not more than 5 a week.  Requests from people to please add so-and-so to your list, made me feel really good.  And then there’s the pin to burst your bubble once in a while.  A request, or even a demand, to “please stop sending me posts”. And even a couple explaining that they wanted out, but didn’t know how to leave the list.  I complied with alacrity and a sense of loss too. Some of these people were on my “friends” list. 

But, as Marc Antony would have it, the “most unkindest cut of all” came from a largish number of those people who never opened my posts.  I found this out when I casually decided to check on deliveries and found entire months of posts either not delivered, perhaps blocked, and several never opened (no two blue ticks).  If we’re talking about etiquette here, I would prefer the guys in the previous paragraph who asked me to remove them from the list.

Pull is better than Push

So, I scrapped the lists after many messages informing the recipients – those who opened the messages of course – that I was now starting two separate groups, where only the admin would post, to protect them from a deluge of posts.  And instead of me pushing the information to a whole list, they would need to “click on the link” and join the group.  Let them pull the information rather than me pushing it.  I’m still a little sad, because the groups have been joined by 65 and 57 people so far.  A far cry from the 200+ of the past.  So, for example, this blog post will go out to those 65 only.  

I have made quite an investment in online etiquette there and am looking at widening the scope of my investments.  But let me share a few obvious ones with you.

Body Language Online

Most of the teachers I have worked with, or listened to online, rue the fact that they cannot ‘feel the presence’ of the students in the classroom.  The body language is missing. And so is the verbal attack and sarcasm, but that’s for another story in this series.  Worse, they cannot control the movements of the participants in a video-conference classroom.  The usual ploy is switching off the video “to conserve bandwidth” – a euphemism for “I’m not really there” or “I’m listening to you, but I’m doing something else”. It’s a problem in corporate conferences too, where you could be staring at a screenful of DPs and imagine you are having a face-to-face discussion!  That isn’t no body language, that’s nobody language!  If you’re going offscreen then use the telephone .. it also comes free with a mobile.

I believe good online etiquette expects face-to-screen communication, with people properly dressed, while refraining from exploring a nostril onscreen or worse.  I’ve dealt with this in another post, so I won’t labour it.

Visual Distraction

Other undesirable movements include walking off onscreen, playing carrom with your mobile, or displaying your ceiling fan – which is probably better than your nostrils and your half-dressed kids storming the background.  My favourite pastime is to ask people to turn their mobile phones horizontal and to raise them up to eye height so that they look good. Variations on this pastime include asking them to face the light or remove offending underthings from the background view.  You can’t believe the hangups they have.  

But by far the best experience was the happy homemaker who propped her device on the kitchen shelf, left the microphone on and proceeded to treat us all to a son et lumiere on how she makes dinner.  Fortunately it was only sound and light and smells weren’t included.  But you could count on your fingers the number of people who were watching the speaker, who hopefully was not watching The Dinner Show himself.

Mute Admiration 

There was a time when Zoom was king, because it had a ‘Mute All’ function.  It also had an ‘Unmute All’ which I believe has been removed as an investment in etiquette.  Too many of us have been caught in the act.  Especially students running down their teachers assuming the microphone is off, or parents yelling about breakfast, or a loud and long hiss from the pressure cooker at the most inopportune moment – the SFH (sounds from home, duh) are things that one could write a book on.  No, we’re on etiquette here.  

Early conferences used to be peppered with requests from the organizers to “please be on mute” at regular intervals, with well-meaning busybodies giving copious instructions in the Chat Box.  Most of the other conferencing programs have introduced all sorts of microphone controls without crossing the “free speech” boundaries.  But some people have developed a nervous tic with the mute button – either turning it on or off in reverse, at the worst possible time.  I half-suspect it’s a residue of the double-click age.  Software now allows us to raise a virtual hand, or type a comment in chat but there are some of us who just love to stab the Unmute button and blurt out our piece resulting in confusion with people trying to find out whose yellow box is lit up.  Basic etiquette carried over to the online platform would prompt us to ask for attention and then speak.  But the question of the year, preceding most conversations, is “Am I audible?”

Unfortunately, yes.

My Learnings

  • Don’t push, offer. Carpet Bombing is out.  Let people pull the information out of you. 
  • Online etiquette is not a lot different from regular etiquette.  It’s just concern for the other.
  • It’s probably worth the investment to think about etiquette in online interaction. SIP recommended since we seem to be in for a long term investment.
  • Unlike the stock market, it can’t fail.

[I would really like your feedback on what other kinds of etiquette have become important because of our dependence on online interaction.  Please leave your comments on the blog. Please share the post so I get some more viewers and comments. Thanks. Leslie]