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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Talking to The Technology

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


As the new authority, is technology killing off good manners and etiquette? Is it time for bots to manner-up and say please and thank you? Best question to Didi Lorillard this week at NewportManners.

Q. What's to be done about teaching manners through the use of bots? More than half of what my internet-savvy kids hear or read is emitted through some techno medium. The language used is stiff and manners don't exist. My husband and I are conscientious about NOT using swear words and making sure to say, "Yes, please," and "No, thank you", as well as "May, I please, have another piece of cake?" We adults have long been role models for behavior and speech. But if the bots are becoming a new authority and they don't think problems through to a viable solution, aren't they undermining all that parents and teachers are doing to foster good manners and problem solving?  BN, Barrington, RI

A.  While ordering a pair of tennis shoes on the Nike website recently, I asked a simple question on the chat box to the bot handling my question, as an automated task, which after 25 minutes the disembodied voice still did not understand what I was asking: does this particular tennis sneaker #... have a narrow heel? (My heels are narrow and when designing sneakers for women from a men's pattern, manufacturers forget to narrow the heel). 'Freddy,' would come back on (four times after a long silences), and report, "This is your friend Freddy, I'm here to help you." Then he would repeat the message that if they didn't fit I could send them back. In frustration I ordered shoes that arrived two weeks later, which took two more weeks to arrive back at Nike because they didn't fit, and it took another two weeks to finally receive the size that did. Does it take six weeks to buy a pair of tennis shoes? The bot's overfamiliarity did nothing to make up for the lack of manners.'Freddy' is NOT my new BFF.

We encourage our children to ask questions and to socialize with dialogue. Like you, I care deeply about how my children talk. I don't want them chatting like robots. Whether they are asking the Amazon Echo app, "Alexa, play 'Where Are U Now,' from Spotify," or "Alexa, turn off the bedroom lights," Instead, I want them to use the word, please: "Alexa, what time is it, please?" Alexa may be able to replace parents in responding to some of their commands. However, Alexa is not championing good manners. She just should have them.

Routine bots are designed to covertly manipulate a simple conversation with distractions, many of which I was subjected to while waiting for 'Freddy' to answer me about the Nikes. In popups, I was shown many other tennis shoes that I had already discarded for good reasons. A tennis player knows her shoes.'Freddy' never specifically addressed my question. He only offered alternatives and free postage on returns.

Apparently, bots are rather simple to create and implement, making them an incredibly powerful tool with the promise of affecting and influencing every aspect of the World Wide Web. With humor, discuss manners & technology with your kids over dinner by illustrating the many ways we can make bots work for us more politely.

Didi Lorillard researches etiquette at NewportManners.


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