Etiquette just clogs your inbox

Please and Thank You are still magic words
Are they really? Maybe if they’re said and not texted or emailed.

In the South, we are taught to thank everyone for everything, even when we don’t mean it.

In the age of digital communication, Southern manners are annoying.

Whether you know it or not, we are now being conditioned to say only what’s absolutely necessary. Well-mannered professionals in the New South are being encouraged to let go of the rules we were taught growing up in favor of brevity and clarity.

Last week I came across a piece in the New York Times that debated the efficiency of sending a “Thank you” reply to the receipt of an email. On one hand, it is nice to know the person appreciates whatever crucial piece of work you sent.  On the other hand, it’s just another email clogging up your inbox.

This prompted deep, internal reflection: I am a gratuitous email thanker. I even send a “thx” to texts. According to the New York Times, I am super annoying.

Not sure if should send a thank you email or not bother them with an extra email
Many Internet memes, like this one involving the character Fry from the animated “Futurama” television series, decry annoying email habits.

I can be annoying for lots of reasons – at least 10 come to mind immediately – but it’s sad that having good manners is now deemed bothersome. As someone who struggles to keep up with two email accounts, three Twitter feeds, two Facebook accounts, two LinkedIn accounts, a Pinterest page, and, of course, a blog, I get it. Have we gotten so busy, though, that we don’t have time or even appreciate a common courtesy such as “Thank you?”

If “love means never having to say you’re sorry”, then in the New South being comfortable in the relationship means never having to say “Thank you.” Thinking about my own texting and email habits, I tend to say “Thank you” to people with whom I don’t have a well-established relationship. Since changing jobs, I’ve found that I do it a lot more than I used to with my former colleagues.

I had no ill will towards my former colleagues. It’s just after working with many of them for 10 years, I became very comfortable in my relationships and didn’t feel a need to thank them for every little email. But now, I am so eager to get off on the right foot, that I thank everybody for everything. And the New York Times tells me I am super annoying by doing so.

I'm somewhat skeptical you're laughing out loud as much as you claim
When you care enough to send the very best, someecards can express the unexpressable.

Sometimes, a brief “thx” or even an “lol” can be used to help gently land a seemingly endless text or email conversation. It’s a way to put a punctuation mark on the interaction and allow you to get back to work. Overuse, however, can be just that much more annoying.

I think the healthy balance is found in the secret of all good communication: consider the audience. It’s not just novelists or bloggers who need to ask “What does the reader want?” After all, isn’t etiquette, at its root, about making others feel comfortable?

If you are texting your brother, “thx” isn’t necessary. If you are emailing your boss, it’s not a bad idea to include a quick reply to confirm receipt. This isn’t universal. Don’t thank your boss if he or she hates email and doesn’t really know you. We live in an era of situational etiquette.

Taking a split second to decide how your message will be received and interpreted can save you grief. That momentary and tiny bit of thoughtfulness will be appreciated more than a thoughtless response, no matter how cheery.

And if it’s really important to thank someone, send a note. Yes, they still exist.

Now, I’m going to queue up some “Thank you” emails for everyone who read this post.

Do you like getting “Thank you” emails or “thx” texts or do you prefer the silent treatment? Are you an annoying thanker, too? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and I promise not to thank you for doing so.

Bracing

You cannot bear your children’s burdens for them.

On Wednesday, our 12-year-old son, Barron, began a two-year journey with orthodontia. My wife and I can commiserate, but we cannot take away the discomfort and self-consciousness. As one of my former editors used to say, it’s his bear to cross.

I'm sure Barron is under no such delusion.
I’m sure Barron is under no such delusion.

By the grace of God and my mother’s good dental genes, I avoided braces altogether, but I remember coming of age in the ‘70s and ‘80s when a prescription for braces as a teenager was a death sentence for popularity. I can clearly recall several instances of friends who had to undergo the painful process of orthodontics, erasing their smiles for two to three years and earning such unflattering nicknames as “metal mouth,” “brace face” and “jaws.” It was even worse for the kids who had to wear headgear attached to their braces.

In reading up on orthodontia, I learned that braces are now nearly ubiquitous. From 1982 to 2008, the number of teenagers with braces has increased by 99 percent. Gone are the days of the snaggletooth Southern stereotype. In the New South, wearing corrective braces is a rite of passage common to nearly every teen and pre-teen.

My wife is the one with orthodontic experience in our household, and she has offered reassurances that there is life after braces. It’s probably better that she be the parent with empathy because I suspect our boys would rather have her for comfort than their often less-than-sympathetic old man.

Willy Wonka's braces
After having watched or listened to the Wonka remake about 150 times, I couldn’t help but picture these braces when I first learned Barron would have to be subjected to orthodontia.

I don’t know how normative her experience is, though. She reported to have desired braces so much in her pre-teen years that she used tin foil to pretend to have braces. To her, orthodontics was the status symbol of cool, teenaged girls.

Barron will not be alone in his misery. One of his buddies has already been through braces, getting them at the age of 10 and recently having them removed. Another friend has them now and has been a good peer guide through the process. His younger brothers, though, haven’t been as sympathetic.

“Uh, Harris, you know you will be going down this road yourself in a couple of years,” I reminded our 7-year-old.

Thoughtful silence.

“I’d be a lot more sympathetic if I were you.”

“Well, I better make fun of him all I can while I have the chance.”

Epic parenting fail.

After the first week with braces on his top teeth – the bottom braces will be installed in about six months – he’s managed to deal with the soreness, find a way to keep them clean and work around the new protrusions to make his requisite trumpet embouchure. More adjustments are coming, I’m sure, but at least for now, we’ve not had to deal with any questions about kissing.

Again, wisdom from his younger brother:

“You won’t be able to kiss any girls,” Harris rejoined with a wide smile.

“That’s the least of my worries,” Barron said.

No, that’s the least of OUR worries.

Probably at the top of our list, right under his pain, is our financial pain. Braces aren’t cheap. I’ve used installment plans and credit to purchase everything from mattresses to cars to homes, but I never imagined I would be employing these financing tools to make my kids’ teeth straight. This isn’t the first nor will it be the last time I am surprised by a big-ticket expense in raising children.

So as my expedition with orthodontia begins, I welcome the collective wisdom of you who have traveled this road before me. What do I have to expect? What do I have to dread? What do I have to celebrate? It may not take a village to raise a child, but it certainly takes a bank.

Leave your comment below and share how you coped with your own braces or your child’s braces. We’ll all benefit from your experience.

My little brother the leprechaun

Tomorrow is March 17, a date that looms large for my family.

My little brother, Lee, turns 39 tomorrow. He's slightly bigger now.
My little brother, Lee, turns 39 tomorrow. He’s slightly bigger now.

No, we’re not Irish. Well, we’re a little Irish, but not THAT Irish. You see, 39 years ago on St. Patrick’s Day, my little red-headed brother was born. He would end up being my first little brother, but none of us knew that at the time.

Arthur Lee Wallace, named for my mom’s father, proved to be a handful then and continues to enlighten and entertain us with his witticisms and misadventures. I was a mere 3 years and eight months old when Lee was born. When he came home from the hospital, I tried to hold him in my lap but failed to properly support his neck and head.

“His head is falling off!” I yelled as his fuzzy noggin lolled across my knees.

Lee, seen here on his first Easter, also survived my fashion disasters. Although to be fair, this wasn't my fault.
Lee, seen here with me on his first Easter, also survived my fashion disasters. Although to be fair, I didn’t choose this outfit.

He survived my fledgling attempts to hold him – though any damage he sustained may explain some behavioral eccentricities – and much worse at my hands as the years went on.

I will never forget the sick feeling in my stomach when I looked into the rear view mirror on my parents’ van and saw him rolling across the pavement of our driveway after I gunned it up the hill with him clinging white-knuckled to the spare tire on the back.

And then there was the time we fought. OK, well, we fought a bunch. In fact, the last whuppin’ I got from my dad occurred when I was 13. Lee and I we were hitting below the belt in a knock-down, drag-out tilt. I’m still not sure if we were punished for fighting or for fighting dirty.

Lee has also survived many a tongue lashing from my parents for following through on ideas I may or may not have planted in his mind.

“Lee, ask Dad if we can stay up and watch TV.”

“OK!” he eagerly responded.

Minutes later, after my father erupted at his post-bedtime appearance in the den, Lee returned, crying.

“Oh well. Guess that was a ‘No.’ Thanks, Lee. Good night!”

Lee is a talented musician and choir director. He sings WAY better than me and plays several instruments.
Lee is a talented musician and choir director. He sings WAY better than me and plays several instruments.

We shared a bedroom from as far back as I can remember until I left for college. We had long late-night chats about important topics like the Dallas Cowboys’ chances of winning a Super Bowl with Gary Hogeboom as the quarterback and how Darth Vader could possibly be Luke Skywalker’s father.

The conversation Lee likes to remind me of happened one night when I was 16. I professed to have found the woman of my dreams. Really, really, really wish I never shared that. Now Lee uses it to great comedic effect at family gatherings. He has a way of keeping me grounded if I ever get too full of myself.

Lee and the girl of his dreams, Karrie. What a handsome couple.
Lee and the woman of his dreams, Karrie.

Many years later I eventually found the woman of my dreams, and so did Lee. He actually preceded me in marriage by a full three years.

Although I would never tell him, I’m very proud of all that he has accomplished. He has been a youth and music minister for nearly 20 years, impacting the lives of hundreds of teenagers. He helps his wife, Karrie, run a very successful business in Lake Wales, and is excelling at selling nutritional and weight loss products. He and Karrie are raising an intelligent, beautiful and talented 11-year-old daughter, Kalee.

Our infrequent opportunities to catch up are treasures for me, and I enjoy following his exploits from afar on Facebook. My life changed forever 39 years ago tomorrow, and despite what I may have said in the heat of arguments during our childhood, I’m glad he was born.

While everyone else is donning the green tomorrow in honor of St. Patrick, I’ll be thinking of Lee, our family’s own lucky leprechaun. Having him in our lives is worth more than a pot of gold.

My cheatin’ foot

When you try a different hair stylist or dental hygienist, don’t you feel a little bit like you’re cheating on the relationship?

Since the mid-1990s I have been buying my running shoes at Phidippides, the first-ever specialty running store which opened in 1973 in Tallahassee, Fla., and now operates at Atlanta’s Ansley Mall. Even when I lived in Macon, I would drive to Midtown Atlanta to buy my running shoes from real runners who knew what they were talking about as opposed to the teenagers in referee uniforms at those shops in the mall or the big box stores.

screen image of my high arches
I have a high arch… so says the computer screen and the eyeball test.

For at least the last three years as I have dealt with a number of injuries, a running buddy of mine has been trying to convince me to visit Big Peach Running, an Atlanta running store chain that opened in 2004. He talked about their fit process and how they looked at your feet on some sort of scanner and then videotaped your gait and foot falls on a treadmill to determine your needs in a running shoe.

I stubbornly protested, saying I preferred the low-tech approach of Phidippides where they watch you run with their eyes and tell you the same information. I said I didn’t want to succumb to the “soul-less, technology-driven” approach of the new-fangled Big Peach.

After logging WAY too many miles on my shoes, I decided it was time to get some new ones. I had been complaining about my shoes to anyone who would listen for several months. Finally, my wife had heard enough.

“Go buy some shoes already!” was her less than sympathetic response.

Now that I work in Midtown, I made plans to slip over to Phidippides during a lunch hour. Before I could go, though, my running buddy made one last appeal for Big Peach. This time when I launched into my old school argument, he was ready.

“Wait, don’t you work at Georgia Tech? Why are you so afraid of technology?”

Touché.

I looked up Big Peach’s locations and found a brand new one on Peachtree Street, 1.7 miles from my office. Resistance was futile. I was assimilated.

During lunch last Friday, I drove over to the new Big Peach location, feeling guilty for abandoning my beloved Phidippides. The clerks, who, like at Phidippides, were clearly very knowledgeable runners, asked me the same diagnostic questions I used to get at Phidippides:

  1. How much are you running these days?
  2. What are you are currently running in?
  3. Are you having any problems?
  4. Are you training for something specific?
screen image of food landing in stable position
My foot lands in a stable position. Extra cool shot of my ankle, too, with my dress pants rolled up.

Because I knew all these answers so readily, they started to just pull some shoes they knew would work and go from there. But I sheepishly said, “Aren’t you going to do all that high-tech stuff to my feet?”

Embarrassed, they backtracked and had me step on the sensor pad to measure my arch. I have a high arch, by the way, which I already knew.

Then, they put me on the treadmill with the little camera aimed at my feet. I took off and actually got it going a little too fast (on accident, not to show off) so that my foot fall images were blurry. They found a clean frame and showed me how my stride is stable. I neither over- or under-pronate. I have a stable foot and need a neutral shoe. Again, this was information I already knew.

They let me trot around in the newest model of the Asics Gel Cumulus, which I’ve been running in for the better part of 10 years. They felt great, like rubber-soled comforters for my feet.

For grins, they showed me perhaps the ugliest shoes I have ever seen in my life. Newtons, they were called, as in Sir Isaac. And, no, they were not of the fig variety. They were of the $170 variety. They had little rubber blocks on the sole under the ball of the foot designed to induce proper running form. In case you’re not keeping up, these days proper running form is to land on the mid-foot or ball of the foot rather than the heel-to-toe technique most of us grew up learning.

My new Nike Flyknit Trainers.
Money, it’s gotta be the shoes. Nike Flyknit Trainers will get me over the hump in qualifying for Boston.

I donned these hideous shoes and trotted around a bit. They felt good and actually did make me run on the balls of my feet. But it wasn’t $170 worth of improvement, so I tried out the sports car model. These chartreuse Nike’s Flyknit Trainers were the lightest shoe I had every picked up. Made with engineered fabric, the shoes weighed just 1.2 ounces each. For legs that aren’t getting any younger, I swallowed my pride and bought the brightest pair of shoes I will ever own.

I am officially in the 21st Century of running. I wear neon green shoes that have a little pocket in the insole for a microchip (which I did not purchase) that can sync via Bluetooth technology with my iPhone to record my runs. I shop at a store that scans your feet electromagnetically and uses video cameras to record your running motion. I have officially moved to the New South of running.

I may not be the six million dollar man, but with these new shoes, I am the $145 man. I just hope they will help me qualify for Boston soon or else I may go back to my Luddite ways at Phidippides.

How hi-tech are your trainers? How do you buy your shoes? Have you succumbed to the technological generation and go for every GPS, heart-rate-monitor, sensor and microchip available?  Leave a comment and sure your running technology preferences.

The Yahoo Policy

Once upon a time there was a place people went in order to complete tasks and earn a paycheck. This place was called an office.

Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO
CEO Marissa Mayer rescinded the Yahoo “work from home” policy. She may not be laughing long.

About the time commutes, family needs and office culture conspired to nearly eliminate productivity 10 or more years ago, companies began letting their employees telecommute or work from home. The new work place is distributed – it can be anywhere your laptop or tablet can get an Internet signal: coffee shops, airports, hotels, public transit or even your kitchen.

This reality of the contemporary work place was challenged this week when Yahoo’s CEO and new mom, Marissa Mayer, issued a new directive requiring employees to work from the office. Flying in the face of recent corporate trends, the move has set off a firestorm of criticism.

My own experience with working from home was a gradual progression. When I first took the CBF communications job in 2002, I commuted from Macon to Atlanta four days a week and was allowed to work from home on Wednesdays until I relocated to the Atlanta area. It lasted four months, but with laptops and cell phones, my Wednesdays were as connected and as productive as any other day of the week.

But I didn’t like not being physically there. While I was glad to avoid the 90+ minute commute, it was difficult to build rapport with new colleagues, learn a new culture and be a part of essential meetings and conversations. Doing this remotely was a challenge.

My boss didn’t have hang-ups with working from home. In fact, he encouraged it. He worked from home on Fridays as a way to catch up, particularly after a busy week of travel. As my role evolved into more of a “No. 2” in the office and his proxy, I began to feel a real internal conflict over working from home. I felt I needed to be there to answer questions and collaborate, but because I was attending so many meetings and had so many interruptions, I was having difficulty getting my work done.

So I started working from home one day a week during the school year, when the house was empty. It was a good catch up day, and with my trusty laptop and mobile phone, I was always accessible.

Now that I am in a new job learning a new culture and building new relationships again, I feel a need to be in the office. I have worked from home once or twice, and the option is certainly available to me at Georgia Tech. But I find once again the need to be physically present.

productivity
Where are you most productive? Work there.

This is where I resonate most acutely with Yahoo’s policy. Deep down I really do believe “Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home,” to quote Mayer’s memo. But I also understand and need for flexibility for myself and my employees. There are some tasks that are better suited for working at home, and there are some times when working from home solves a lot of personal/familial scheduling problems.

A story on the policy change from NPR this week quoted one worker as saying she appreciated the ability to work from home because it sent the message that the company trusts its employees. Yes, that is a powerful morale boost. As long as the trust is rewarded with performance, it’s hard to argue against a work from home policy. But when work from home becomes “work at home” and an employee spends his or her day doing laundry, watching children or surfing the Internet, I believe that is theft.

Yes, I’m a little old school. Yes, I am also extroverted and like the interaction with people. Yes, I waste too much time getting involved in interacting with colleagues in the work place.

But no matter what Yahoo decrees, I believe work from home is as much a part of the modern workplace – as much a part of the culture of the New South – as being tethered to the office through mobile devices. I have yet to hear if Yahoo will rescind all of the laptops and mobile devices it gives its workers or alleviate them of the responsibility of responding to phone calls or e-mail while at home.

If it does make this radical shift, I might believe the move has merit and the company respects work-life balance. Because Mayer is having a nursery built next door to her office, a perk no other employee at Yahoo can pull off, I believe the company is blurring the lines between work and life even further, and the draconian “no working from home” will be a failed policy that is scrapped before the end of the year.

Now, I need to get back to some email. It’s Saturday morning and the kids will be up soon. What’s that about work-life balance?

Where is your favorite place to work? Do you prefer to work in the office, at home, a coffee shop, in nature? Where do you get the most done? Leave a comment below and enlighten us as we achieve maximum productivity.