Polite Is The New Rude? Etiquette in the Digital Age

I started my morning the usual way.

Pour the kid a bowl of cereal and put on Pirates of Penzance (it’s his current favorite).

Check email, both work and personal. Answer anything urgent, sort the rest.

Check Twitter and Facebook. Answer anything particularly pressing/funny.


Try to avoid checking my book reviews on Amazon (‘cause that isn’t my healthiest behavior). Fail and get a little nauseous.

Distract myself with an interesting looking article while I finish my coffee.

This morning, that article was from the New York Times: Disruptions: Digital Era Redefining Etiquette.

A glance at the title led me to believe that I would be reading about how having our eyes glued to our smart devices has resulted in a decline of polite behavior.

But no.

This article’s author actually seemed to be complaining about people who still engage in certain behaviors that he finds “inconvenient” in this digital age.

According to the author, people who leave him voice mails, say thank you (or even “hi”) in an email, or ask him anything that can be found via Google are wasting his time.

Wasting his precious time is rude, ya’ll. How dare you.

When I started reading I thought for sure that he was being sarcastic to make some kind of point.

Nope. Dude is seriously annoyed with you for leaving voice mails. Don’t you know how to text?

tumblr_m9qd7oubn11r4rbqjWant to know how to get to his house? Don’t ask him. That’s what the interwebs are for, dummy.

Granted, I’m an introvert who does not like being on the phone. If someone chooses to text me rather than call, I’m more likely to kiss their face* the next time I see them for sparing me from making small talk in between, “wait, are you still there? Hold on, you’re breaking up. I’m in an AT&T blackhole…”

But I don’t think it’s rude for a person to call and leave me a voice mail. As a matter of fact, I tend to get annoyed when people call me, don’t leave a voice mail, then tell me at a later date “I tried to call you” as if the presence of their number should have clued me in that the matter was urgent enough that I should call them back.

Not to mention that texting can be just as intrusive as a phone call. A call or voice mail can easily be ignored until you are ready to listen, but a text sits there on your phone’s screen, begging to be read RIGHT NOW.

And how inconvenient is it to receive an email that says “thank you” or opens with a customary greeting, like “hello”? For the record, please, I would rather you all waste three seconds of my life sending me pleasantries than the neurotic spiral that could result from the lack thereof.

Did Joe get my email? He didn’t reply with a thank you. Oh no, did I offend him? What did I say? ::promptly spends four hours reviewing every message ever sent to Joe:: Was it that joke about Canada? WAIT. Is Joe Canadian?! ::composes email to Joe about all the wonders of Canada and how much I love Canadian bacon and hockey and Prince Edward Island and reading everything in French AND English… ::

See? All of that could have been prevented with a simple “thank you” email.

And sure, if someone wants to know the best place for Thai food in town, can’t place where they’ve seen that guest star on Castle before, or where the closest Starbucks is, they could whip out a smartphone and figure it out, right?

Well, yes, if everyone has a smartphone on them (which, believe it or not, they don’t) I guess you could make the case that no one should ask anyone anything.

And yet…

What happens to conversation?

If I hit Yelp for every restaurant recommendation, there goes conversations with my foodie friends about their favorites. I miss entertaining anecdotes about an awful waiter, details about great dishes but terrible bathrooms, or even entire eateries that are tucked away and haven’t hit the interwebs yet.

If I IMDB every familiar face on TV, I miss geeking out over my favorite episodes of the show that guest star was on with a fellow nerd.

This is a real thing not far from me.

This is a real thing not far from me.

If I hit Google maps to find the local Starbucks, I miss out on hearing about the electrical box in town that’s been painted to look like a Tardis. (Or depending on what Apple update I have on my phone, I may end up in a lake.)

More importantly, I miss out on conversation.

Again, I’m an introvert. I’m quite happy with peaceful days and talking to myself. But even introverts can use a little human interaction from time to time.

Looking at Mr. Bilton’s ideas on how we should behave in this digital age, I’m left feeling as if polite behavior will merely boil down to excusing ourselves when we crash into each other because we’re staring at our phone, or when we break wind on a crowded train.

(I’m assuming he’d ask for a mass text for that. No time for talk, people. I’ve got my own gas to pass!)

The older generation, or the digitally resistant, will either be forced to learn, or humored/mocked for their “old ways”.

We’ll stop saying thank you to service personnel – after all, they get that “thank you” via their pay and tips. How rude and redundant to use actual words.

Teachers will answer all questions in school with “Google it, dummy”.

When did we become a generation that complains about the niceties? About people being polite?

So, Mr. Bilton, consider this my “thank you”.

Thank you for making me remember to set aside the devices, to step away from Google, and to engage another human being at some point today.

Thank you for reminding me that pleasantries shouldn’t go out of style.

And thank you for reminding me to answer my phone with a proper, “Ahoy.”

*I will not actually kiss you on the face. You know, germs and such.




Tuesday Tech: How to Stay Safe and Secure Online

In my short time on this earth, I’ve seen a lot of changes in how people do business and share information, thanks to many advances in technology.

I’m a fan. I practically sleep with my phone and I am pretty sure that my relationship with Google is unhealthy.

Having said that, with all this wonderful progress comes a certain amount of danger.

I’ve read posts and received messages asking about scams, hoaxes, and so far, none of my friends have fallen prey.

In an effort to help out my many writer friends who find themselves spending more time plugged in than they ever expected, I took some time out to interview a securities expert on some best practices when online.

Ian Thompson. No Photo Available.

Without further delay, welcome Ian Thompson, CISSP, OSCP, MCSA, CCNA, Security + Expert, and many other letters of the alphabet I can’t remember. He’s spent a great deal of brainpower and time earning those letters. Thanks for joining us, Ian.

Please don’t hack me.

I only use my powers for good.


That’s a relief. Unfortunately, there are hackers out there that don’t use their powers for good. How does an average Joe keep their computer safe? Is that possible?

Sure, turn off your computer, unplug it, and place it in a vault. I think most people would sleep
well at night knowing that their computer is protected from unwanted access, don’t you?

Is this how the whole interview is going to go?


Actually, some computers are turned off and placed in a vault to protect the information stored on them. But realistically that’s not possible for most.

Right. So for the “most” of us, what should we do?

To be reasonably protected, it is important to do a few things.

  • First, continually educate yourself about best security practices like you are doing right  now. Keep in mind that security is not a state that one can attain; it is a process that must be repeated frequently.
  • Second, you need to know what software is on your computer. Once you know what you have, make sure all of it is up to date and fully patched. Security products can assist in this, but a nice free tool called Secunia Personal Software Inspector is available to help you with this part of the process. Remember, new updates may come out daily. You can schedule this product to
    regularly scan your system and it will show you what needs to be updated and even point you to the updates to install. Always make sure Windows, Adobe, Java, and Office updates are applied.
  • Third, use a security product and keep it updated. Ideally it will have anti-virus, generic buffer overflow protection, intrusion prevention, and a firewall built into it. Companies like eEye Digital Security, and Symantec have products that contain these types of protection.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Awesome. Thanks for the link for Secunia. We all like free stuff that helps protect us. Does that mean when a random window pops up telling us we need to download a virus protection, we should do it? I mean, I had one the other day saying it was Windows Defender. That sounds totally legit.

When in doubt, don’t. All sorts of malware is out there made to appear like legit software.

Hmmm. Ok. I totally knew that.

::tosses laptop out window::

How about this email here? Ebay needs me to confirm my log in information. I don’t want an interruption in my eBay service. I’m in the middle of bidding on some sweet Star Wars memorabilia.

This is an example of a social engineering attack called phishing. This attack is very common over email. For example someone may send you an email pretending to be a company or a bank cleverly asking you for some personal information, accounts/passwords, or enticing you to click a link.

Clicking the link is the last thing you would want to do. Let me repeat this, NEVER click a link in an email. It is always best to open a web browser and navigate to the site you wish to visit.

For example, this will allow you to go to the real site “ebay.com” and not the fake site “ebay.ee.com” (I just made up that URL). These fake sites may look like the real site but many times they will infect your computer with malware automatically even if you are full patched and up-to-date with your security product updates.

::gasp:: Really??

Yes, it’s true. Also, do NOT reply to these emails as that would confirm a valid email address and could also allow for further social engineering attempts. Keep this in mind, many advertisements, content on social networking sites, and other genuine sites link to malware too. Be very cautious about what you click on. Products that contain host intrusion protection and 0 day protection or generic buffer overflow protection can offer some protection from these types of attacks. Educating yourself will go very far in preventing social engineering attacks as people are always the weakest link.

We are the weakest link!

::rolls eyes::

What if I get an email from a friend saying they are stranded in a foreign country and need money?

Don’t send any.

A Nigerian prince who needs my banking info?

Not so much.

My email provider saying that they need me to confirm my account or they’ll close it?

Don’t click.

But the IRS is trying to send me a notice. Surely…

Don’t click.

But if I don’t act now, this refinancing deal is going to slip through my fingers.

Let it slip. Don’t click. Do you have that out of your system now?

I think so.

How about passwords? I have maybe a bajillion of them. I am pretty sure that if I just make them all “password123” that would be best. Then, I can remember them all easily, and no one will ever guess that.

Er, no. Not a good idea.

If you choose to set a password yourself follow some basic guidelines:

  • Make sure you never reuse a password. This can be hard to do but it keeps your other information from easy access if a password was found.
  • Make it something you can easily remember plus as long and complex as you can including upper/lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. Fifteen or more characters is especially good.
  • Do not include things that someone might find out about you such as pet names, important dates, and information found on your social networking sites.

Dude. We’ve met before, right? What makes you think I can remember a bajillion different passwords?

You don’t have to. The site lastpass.com is a great site and is safe to use. You can check out this pod-cast for more information.

Oh. That’s cool! And only a dollar a month. My brain thanks you, sir.

You’re, uh, she’s welcome…?

How about my phone? I don’t want to be stalked because I have technology in my pocket.


Sorry, hold on. I’m checking in at “My Crib” on Foursquare. And Facebook. And…

Yeah, you might want to skip that.


::puts down phone::

::picks up phone::

Just because you aren’t intentionally “checking in” doesn’t mean your location isn’t being appended to what you upload. Geotagging allows a photo to be tagged with the GPS location your phone feeds it. But, you can turn off this setting. On your iPhone, we can do it here. [Settings, General, Location Services] You also want to look at the individual applications you load to see what their settings are.

::hands phone back::

I am now unstalkable!

Technically, no.

Having a GPS on your phone is not the only way you can be tracked. Your cell phone communicates with cell phone towers and your location can be tracked that way as well. You can find some good information on the eff.org site about this and other privacy issues.

I believe this quote says it all:

“Unfortunately, if you want to use your cell phone at all, avoiding the threat of this kind of real-time tracking is nearly impossible. That’s because the government can track your cell phone whenever it’s on, even if you aren’t making a call. The government can even track some cell phones when they are powered down, unless you have also removed the battery. So, once again, there is a security trade-off: the only way to eliminate the risk of location tracking is to leave the cell phone at home, or remove the battery.”

That sounds like an episode of CSI. Or Law & Order. Or…well, you get the idea.

Last question for today, although I make no guarantees it will be the last ever. Google has been telling me to read it’s new privacy terms. In basic terms, is there anything I need to know?

Very simply, I would not expect any privacy. If you don’t want your searches tied to your account then you would want to log out before you do any google searches. Remember, though, that your ISP can see what you’re doing and they can offer up that information.

So, Google has me in their clutches either way, huh?

Pretty much. That being said I still use google all the time. You can check out the this podcast if you want more details on the subject.

Well, that’s about all the time and space we have today. Thank you so much for joining us Ian.

No problem.

I’ll be sure to stalk you online, I MEAN, give you a call if my readers have more questions.


Readers, what answers did you find helpful? If you have more questions or would like more clarification, please let me know!

I’m securing (no pun intended) exclusive rights to our expert as we speak. He’s not the only tech savvy fellow around these parts, so feel free to all sorts of questions!

Yet Another Google+ Post

You needed someone else to tell you about Google + , right?  Someone else to tell you why you need it and can’t live without it.

There’s a lot of information swirling about out there, and surprisingly, I’ve been asked more than once what I think.

I’ll keep it brief.

Google yourself.  Go on.  Do it.

Now, wanna see what I see when I Google me?

Look! It's me!

Notice what shows up in the search?  That’s right.  Your Google+ profile.  And it’s number one.  Awesome.

Now, before you go peeing on yourself in excitement and looking for an invite, let me point something out.  If you are logged in to Google (Gmail, G+, Docs, anything) your search results are awesome.  I mean look at that up there.  I’m the most popular Amber West in the world, thanks to Google+.

Then I log out.  And I don’t see myself until 4 pages in.  And that’s my blog, not my Google+ account.

The point is, for those of you interested in being found, say, writers/photographers/illustrators, being on Google+ is another way to throw your name out there.  It isn’t a magical tool that suddenly sends your name to the top, though.  Just in case you’ve heard otherwise.

Having said that, I do believe that Google+ will be a valuable social media tool, mainly because it gives you more control over who you send information to.  If I want to post about my word count for the day, I can choose to broadcast that to my “Writers” circle, rather than every friend I have (who probably doesn’t care about my word count).

If I want to post pictures of my kid and talk about his poopy dance, I can broadcast that to my “People that like hearing about the kid” circle, instead of annoying those that despise kid updates in their feed.

I can make a “Snark” circle, a “Family” circle, a “People from High School I Didn’t Hang Out With but Friended me Anyway” circle…you get the idea.  The possibilities are endless.  And the process is super easy.

I should also mention that you can view information based on these same circles.  If I just want to jump in really quick and see what my “Family” circle is up to, I click on that feed and, voila!  All I see is what cute thing my nephew said yesterday, or what Uncle Bob caught on last week’s fishing trip.

The key to loving Google+, like anything else, is knowing how to make it work for you.

To that end, I give you lots o’ links.  These were originally compiled by Debbie Ridpath Ohi so be sure to go give her site some love.

If you aren’t on Google+ and need an invite, let me know in the comments.  Those of you on there, what do you think so far?


Overview of Google+ from Google

Google Plus: Ultimate Quickstart Guide: from Eugene Teplitsky

Getting started with Google+ – Chris Brogan

Google+ Info site: Unofficial info about Google Plus, regularly updated

Mashable Google+ Complete Guide


How To Use Google Plus – by Dan Rowinski

Collaborative Google doc:


Why Writers Should be on Google + – Marcy Kennedy/Girls with Pens

Master Google+ Literary List (my list of literary/book/publishing directories):

11 Google+ Tips for Writers – Robert Brewer

Why Google+ Is Awesome For Cartoonists: Ryan Estrada

5 Way Illustrators and Artists Can Use Google+ – by Lea Woodward

4 Reasons Artists Are Loving Google+ – Rebecca Rosen

Why I’ve Drunk the Google+ Kool-aid… And Love It (for Writers) – Steff


Google Plus Tips & Shortcuts: Andrew Shotland keeps this list updated

Google+ Cheat Sheet: one-page list of shortcuts
Also translated into other languages:

Ultimate Google+ Tips and Tricks: Tech Exclusive

Don’t disable Google+ notifications – Filter them!: Google+ Info

10 Google+ tips to help you get off to a good start: Deb Ng


How to Use Google+ Hangouts (wikiHow): basics, with screenshots

How To Use Google+ Hangouts

Where To Hangout At Google+: user-maintained directory of current G+ Hangouts

How to Have a Writers’ Hangout in Google+ – Mary Robinette Kowal


Google+ Privacy: 5 Settings You need To Know


What are Google Circles and how do I use them? by John Haydon

Taming your Google+ Circle madness in 3 easy step: Vincent Mo

How To Make A Private Circle: Kimberly Castleberry





7 Ways Google+ Users Are Using Circles