When Can You Just Let Electronic Conversations End?

I wasn’t great with the traditional etiquette of the Emily Post and Miss Manners variety, but I’m hopelessly mystified by the challenge of the proper rules of etiquette for our digital age.

Consider electronic writing — emails and texts — for example.  In the old days, when you wrote a letter to a friend, you expected that someday you would get a letter in response.  Do the same rules apply to email and texts?  With email and texting being virtually instantaneous, is there an expected response time after which you need to apologize and offer a reason for not responding sooner?  In my view, often the speed of a response isn’t as important as getting an answer that is thoughtful — and thoughtfulness usually takes time.  But if I’m infuriating someone because I haven’t responded within two hours, I’d sure like to know that.

When can you just let an electronic conversation end, and when do you have to respond with yet another message?  If I send an email and get a response that is completely satisfactory, is it rude to not respond with a “Thanks!”?  It seems silly to constantly be sending “Thanks!” emails, but I’ll do it if that is the expected etiquette these days.  For that matter, if you go with the “Thanks!” response, must you include the exclamation point?  And is it dismissive or demeaning if you go with “thx” rather than the full, written out “Thanks!”?

I pose such questions because I really want to know if I am inadvertently being a thoughtless jerk in my handling of these nettlesome electronic conversations.  If I’m going to be a thoughtless jerk, I’d rather do so intentionally.

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The Pointed Sign-Twirling Guy

One of my more frequently traveled routes in Columbus takes me past a shopping center with a business that has “Liberty” in the name.  Usually when I drive by, there’s a guy out by the road wearing a Statue of Liberty costume — a foam crown, a green gown, and green face paint — using a pointed sign with an arrow to try to entice motorists to visit the “Liberty” business.

It’s hard to believe that the presence of a guy twirling a sign and wearing a Liberty costume would cause a passing motorist to make the snap decision to turn in and visit the business.  There must be a lot of impulsive drivers out there, though, because you see the sign-twirling guys everywhere, flipping their signs, tossing them in the air, and using them to make intricate dance moves with varying degrees of proficiency.  Do they have to go through some kind of training before they head out to the roadway?  In any case, it wouldn’t be a very attractive job — being outside next to a road in all kinds of weather, breathing the exhaust fumes, wearing an embarrassing costume, and enduring the rude comments of some passersby.

When I was stopped at a traffic light next to the shopping center on Saturday, the Statute of Liberty sign-twirling guy was sitting at the bus stop.  I took a good look at him, and realized with the start that he was probably in his late 30s.  He was still wearing his costume and was waiting patiently for his bus.  I found myself wondering if he took the job because he couldn’t find anything else, or whether this gig was a second job that he worked on the weekend to help provide for his family.  I felt sorry for him, but in this economy a job is a job.