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Netiquette: a lost cause or worth saving?

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People have asked me lately why not write another article? However, despite the very kind and praising words after "The art of Laudatio" my first article from 2004, I always felt that one should only write if one has something important to say. I believe the subject of this article is important enough to write about...

Etiquette on the net, or netiquette as it is also called, seems to be fading away.
A regrettable evolution in my opinion.
Now I can hear you ask as to what is exactly "netiquette"? Obviously it has nothing to do with what fork to use for salmon, or who enters a building first. Netiquette happens on the world wide web, which is a "virtual world", as opposed to the real, day-to-day world we live in.

But even in a virtual world etiquette should be present. Etiquette, as in the polite and correct way interaction between two or more people ought to happen. Often the net is felt as a safe haven, where our interactions with others seem to be without consequence, as the other can't physically hurt you, and interactions can be as fleeting as dust in the wind.
But who was it again who wrote that "the Pen is mightier than the Sword"? And what a truth it is! (For those of you who wondered, the answer to that question is Edward Bulwer-Lytton...) We often seem to forget how powerful the Word is and what damage our literary battles can have on the human psychology. Bleeding of the body can be stopped, but how does one stop the bleeding of the soul, or the heart for that matter?

The international aspect of the World Wide Web adds another aspect to netiquette, when multiple languages and ethnic backgrounds come into play. Now well-meant words can, by simple misunderstandings, be the reason of conflict and emotional pain. And if one brings time zones, stress or family situations in the equation, even my head starts to hurt.

I'm sure you all, dear readers, will be able to empathize one way or another with what is written above... Perhaps you felt misunderstood, hurt or perhaps you even inflicted it, willingly or not. All from behind your computer, an "impenetrable" fortress but as fragile as glass when looked closer upon...

"What can we do?", I hear you ask... well awareness of the problem is a major step in solving it, that's for sure! Attentiveness and compassion in our interactions on the net are also an inevitable part of the solution.
A bit too vague, you say? How do we do this, you might wonder? Alright, let's see if we can elaborate on this...

In general communications

Whether you are a participant in the award process (either seeker of giver), or simply communicating over the web, one thing that we should always keep in mind is that we live in a fast society. In netiquette terms this leads to the fact that e-mail and information spread over the net should happen equally fast and, because it's the net, always faces the risk of some uncertainty in the functionality of the devices used: like computers, mail servers, hosting companies, etc...
Thus, acknowledgment of communication is very important here. Whenever you receive a mail with a question or an action to be taken, be so polite to reply immediately, and if possible, mention a time frame needed to handle the situation. This might seem frivolous, even ridiculous, but it is without a doubt a major element of stress nowadays in communications over the internet.

What about the tone? I think it speaks for itself that politeness is a must. But we should also try to achieve a neutral and professional tone, with the origin of the recipient in mind. Allow me to clarify that last part: this means we should not use any archaic words or language structure, nor dialects or words or sentences that require a dictionary on the other part of the line.

In the award giving process

A notification of receipt of the application is once more preferred... not only because it's polite, it's again an indication of the fast society we live in as a form of acknowledgment.
Now how about automated responses? One can argue that thesquadron-steamroller end result is the same, but I tend to disagree. An automated response is a clear example of "virtual living", you let so to speak the virtuality do the talking for you and hence confirming the linguistic barriers that are present, the exact barriers we wish to overcome. You should really try to communicate as if you were talking in the real world face to face.

Another aspect of good netiquette is, in my opinion, feedback. Feedback is a way to respect the efforts that the applicant made when applying in the first place. I do understand that some applicants apply without reading our criteria and hence with little or no effort from their sides, but nevertheless some feedback remains advisable. Because we can't allow that our own AP, which is basically a virtual "machine", will in turn machinate the communication... the AP should always only be a means to an end.

With these thoughts, I would like to round up this article with the hope that you will yourself reflect upon the way you communicate on the web, a process which will inevitably lead to finer netiquette. And thus creating a better atmosphere for all who use the net daily...

Written By Tony Duthoo
© Tony Duthoo, 2006. All rights reserved.
This article may not be reproduced, in part or full, without the permission of the author

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