You want to ask that cute coworker or classmate out for Valentine's Day, but can't seem to get up the gumption to do it in person. Is it okay to ask for a date via e-mail? What about a MySpace comment? Writing on a Facebook wall? Sending a text message? AIM? Voice mail?
We've never had so many chances to come across as charming and attractive, as well as so many opportunities to prove we're neither. Yet this array of options often leaves us confused about which tech tools are appropriate for which interactions.
"I guess I romanticize the days when the only thing you could do is see someone in person," says Nathan Reichenthal, 20, a Houston native, and an architecture and art student at New York University. "But in modern society, you can't function without all these different media."
He's right, but that hardly makes techno-etiquette any less bewildering. Can you ask that special someone out for coffee by e-mail or a Facebook wall post? Or would that be insultingly impersonal? May not be insulting, but it's definitely impersonal.
"A 'let's go for a drink' wall post on Facebook holds less social value than a direct phone call and asking someone out," says Maz Hardey, a doctoral student studying digital social media at the University of York in England. "This is because the phone call is private, direct, synchronous, in real time and personal."
Translated: Actually talking to your crush is more meaningful than leaving him or her a note in cyberspace.
Hardey writes a Facebook etiquette blog (http://properfacebooketiquette.blogspot. com), and says that online etiquette is complicated by many factors, such as how well you know the other person and the medium of communication.
Even the simple question of how to address an e-mail — with "Dear" or "Good Morning" — can be an issue. Ann Marie Sabath, author of One-Minute Manners: Quick Solutions to the Most Awkward Situations You'll Ever Face at Work and founder of etiquette company At Ease Inc., says that formalities like "Dear" and "Sincerely" are meant for letters, not e-mail.
A simpler greeting, like hello or good morning, and the recipient's name should suffice.
Here are some guidelines for common social interactions:
E-mail? "Absolutely. It's a great introduction," believes Sabath.
Hardey recommends a face-to-face declaration, "so that both can share in the rapture." But for an established couple, a quick text "thinking about you. I love you" during the day can be sweet.
It's more gratifying and more productive to have it out in person, Hardey says.
Never do it through an electronic medium, stresses Hardey. It's unacceptably rude, and implies that you don't value the other person.
Technology and romance are not mutually exclusive. After all, Match.com claims that texting can't replace conversation.
"Ultimately, electronic communication is a way of avoiding true intimacy," says Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, psychologist, relationship mediator and founder of Everyone Wins Mediation. "For those who fear commitment, intimacy and deeper connection, it is the great escape."
It's counterintuitive that we could use our unprecedented connectedness to disconnect, but as Shoshanna points out, technology allows us to distance ourselves from the difficult parts of a relationship.