How not to be a texting twit

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. — Lauren Murk had been dating a guy for three months when she and her friends went to party out of town for the weekend. During the trip, Murk texted him eight times telling him how much she missed him — something she wouldn't have done had she not been tipsy. • "Drunk texting is the worst," said Murk. "I'm never that clingy in a relationship. He finally wrote me back and said, 'Wow, you must really miss me.' "

The texts didn't hurt the relationship, they were just embarrassing, and Murk experienced the regret that comes in an age of lightning-speed, round-the-clock communication. Surely you've been there. Fired off less-than-couth Twitter blasts, updated your Facebook status to reflect your mood after a spat with a friend, or, like Murk, gotten text-sappy after tossing back a few too many.

Unlike the drunk dial, you can delete some of these missteps. Some bad e-mails can even be prevented. Gmail users have Google's Mail Goggles, which makes sending e-mail more difficult (it forces you to answer math problems first) during certain times that you can set manually. But it doesn't change the reality that technology has made us a little too vent-happy, says author and etiquette expert Lizzie Post of the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute.

"Now, rather than running into the office and telling the first person you see about your bad experience at Starbucks and it ending there, you post it to the world," Post says. "It carries on. And we seem to like the idea of being able to fire off on a whim."

If you've fired off something you feel is inappropriate — an angry rant against a company, a drunk text to your ex — speedy recovery is the first step, Post says. Mend the situation by apologizing as soon as you can and in the same medium. Facebook and Twitter allow users to remove comments, but it only takes seconds for damage to be done.

"Everyone has those cringe moments," Post says. "Just own it. Apologize. People nowadays are owning their frustration with things but they're not owning when they mess up or spread negativity."

That's what Tim Gosian of Berkeley, Calif., did after he regretted comments he'd made in an online restaurant review. He bad-mouthed the servers and told everyone to skip the spot. After giving it some thought and cooling down, he went back and posted a softer review, allowing the restaurant may have had an off night.

"I felt bad and didn't want it (the rant) to affect their business, especially in this economy," Gosian says.

Ranting isn't all bad, though. Making a fool of yourself online can be productive. Post says rereading a negative thread on Facebook or another site can be a reflective experience. "You can look back at it and say, 'Wow, I've been really negative lately and need to work on that.' Do you really need to post status reports on every little thing making you upset and have hundreds of people validate them?"

Status reports are a little different from drunk or emotional texts. Apologies can follow, and so can, when appropriate, a few good-natured chuckles. That's what motivated Ben Bator and Lauren Leto of Detroit to launch Textsfromlastnight.com a year ago. The Web site is home to millions of anonymous and often witty, if not random, one-liners such as ''You were so drunk you slurred your pauses,'' and ''I am no longer a man. I just realized I prefer SpongeBob to college football.''

Instead of wallowing, people submit their area codes and embarrassing texts for publishing bragging rights. The site spawned a book by the same name, recently released by Gotham, and an iPhone app. The site gets 4 million visitors and 15,000 submissions a day.

"We all have those nights,'' says Bator, 24. "Before it was the drunk dial. But the thing about texting that makes it funnier is that you have to hurry up and make your point in 160 characters."

Regret? Hardly. "Even if you came off as a fool, at least you were witty," Bator says.

How to avoid tech regret

Before you post or click send, ask yourself if just writing the text or status update is enough. If so, click delete instead of send.

If you fire off the note and wish you hadn't, send a note of apology. If it's a status update or Twitter post, you can delete it immediately.

If you have a thread of texts or status updates you regret, use it as a tool for reflection. Are you posting status reports on every little thing that makes you upset? Are you too negative?

Don't argue or debate over text. After three or four texts, pick up the phone and call.

If you must craft a negative or emotional e-mail, save it as a draft, think about it and, if you still want to send it, do it in the morning.

Sources include Lizzie Post of the Emily Post Institute and Will Schwalbe, co-author of SEND: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better (Knopf).

How not to be a texting twit 04/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 9, 2010 12:37am]

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