Etiquette Rules for the Smartphone Era: Handwritten vs. Digital

Courtesy of Bell’Invito

In the age of smartphones, social media and all things digital, it’s easy to forget the power of good, old-fashioned pen and paper. With the incredibly fast speed and instant gratification of sending out a “thank you” email or text, the question remains: is it ever worth it to send a handwritten card? Following a job interview, should you write a thank you note, a quick email follow-up, or both? Are digital event invites or e-cards ever acceptable? The lines are often blurry between what’s good-mannered and what’s the norm. To answer these burning questions and more, Heather Wiese-Alexander, founder of Bell’INVITO Stationery and an avid etiquette blogger, breaks down the modern etiquette guidelines to follow in the age of hashtags and text messages.

Courtesy of Heather Wiese-Alexander

How has specialising in etiquette and stationery changed since you started? Especially with the advent of social media?

 The changes happened in two distinct shifts. First, stationery struggled as an industry. The irony is that the medium perceived to cause the struggle also created the renaissance that followed. Once Pinterest, Instagram and other image-driven media began to tout romanticized, beautiful paper––we fell back in love with stationery and invitations. The industry is not going back to how it was before. We want things faster and easier, for one. But, where stationery was once a staple, it has become a luxury and a status symbol. Etiquette has seen a very similar shift. With people interacting so much and more rapidly, the call for social graces to be defined in the digital world is clear. With this becoming a hot topic, and with the resurgence formality and tradition in paper, traditional etiquette is similarly seeing a rise in popularity.

When should you choose to send a paper thank you card rather than an email or text?

Thanks should always be put in writing. A quick text is good as an acknowledgement (and it’s o.k. to say, “thanks” in the acknowledgement), but it is not the same as a hand-written note.

Following an interview or meeting: should you send a paper thank you, an emailed thank you or both?

Sending a quick email is fine, especially if you perceive the need to promptly follow up on something from the interview. Hand-written notes, however, are a must. There is no substitution for the effort it takes to procure good paper, write a note, seal it, address, stamp and mail a sincere note. You are saying as much with the effort as you are with the words. Send them properly.

What are your thoughts on e-cards? Yes or no?

Yes and No. Realistically, both have their place in our society today. The question really is, how do you want to be perceived? I love a good Jib-Jab dancing elves e-card, but they will never replace my mailed holiday cards.

Where do you stand on paper invites versus digital?

First and foremost, send a paper invitation to anything formal. Second, know that paper invitations are still seen by the sweeping majority as an indication of what kind of party one is being invited to. It’s that simple. The effort you put into the invitation is the starting point for the effort your guests will give back. If you are having friends over for Sunday Funday or a ball game, shoot out an email. If you’re inviting 6 guests over for a game night, you could send a Paperless Post. If you want to have people over to celebrate a milestone, or you want them to dress up for an occasion, send a paper invitation.

As the hostess of an event: is it bad to send save the dates or event details via email or text message?

Yes. Avoid sending a save-the-date digitally. If the event is important enough that you want people to put it on their calendar far in advance, you really should give guests the courtesy of a paper invitation. Email followups are fine for a professional occasion or a casual event, but don’t let that be your primary point of inviting. Remember, a save-the-date is an invitation.

When at a dinner or party, is it rude to have your phone out? What are your rules of thumb for using your phone at events?

Yes. Put the phone away. If you have to check it to see about the babysitter or work, or whatever is more important than the party you committed to attending, excuse yourself, step away briefly and do what you need to do. There is no shame in that. Afterwards, come back to the table and resume being present and involved in conversation. The same goes at an event: step outside, talk or text, then come back in with your head and eyes up––not down checking your phone.

A Quick Guide to Smartphone Etiquette:

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In general…
When you are out socially, it is fine to have the ringer on a vibrate function at a reasonable (low) volume if you have a sitter at the house or if your work or personal life calls for you to be available while you are at other commitments. However, others should not be subject to any aspect of your smartphone, including conversations live or typed out. Put it away. If you must take a call or return a text, excuse yourself, take care of business, and return promptly.

At dinner…
Don’t leave your phone out on the table at dinner.

At a party…
Don’t carry your phone around in your hand like something better could happen at any moment.

In an audience…
Turn your phone to silent. Dim your screen. Answer only in an emergency. Never use the phone from your seat.

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On the plane…
Your conversations, ring tones and other smartphone addictions should never disrupt someone else. Be aware that your voice, device volume, and the light from your screen are a potential annoyance to the people around you, and keep them to a very low intensity or off completely.