Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

Social etiquette is like the English language: It’s always changing. Prescriptivists — in language and etiquette — call us to adhere to certain rules for Propriety’s sake.

The rule-makers forget, however, that Propriety is a moving target.

Somehow we know what’s expected of us, even though there are shifts in Propriety from generation to generation. We know which situations necessitate a visit over a phone call, and we know when we need to send a handwritten note over a casual e-mail.

Even so, as the rules evolve, the prescriptivists remind us that things may have been a bit better before the evolution. That’s the point of a new campaign for Skype.

The premise of the campaign’s messages is that Skype restores the human face to our text-coded and 140-character-limited relationships. Unlike the heartless connections you get from Facebook, Twitter, and SMS, Skype delivers through communications that are more proper, more acceptable, and more couth.

Two of the ads in the series ask rhetorical questions about the decline of our social etiquette, questioning when it became socially acceptable to use technology instead of engage people face to face:

  • When did LOL replace the sound of laughter?
  • When did it become okay to text mum “Happy Birthday”?

I agree: Hearing a loved one laugh at my wit is way better than getting an LOL in reply to something witty I’ve posted. And being with my mom to wish her “Happy Birthday” is way better than texting it.

But these campaign messages forget that most people are not using technology to replace human interaction but to enhance it. For me, technology fills in the gaps when more direct forms of communication aren’t possible. Only on rare occasions do I use technology to avoid hearing someone’s voice or being with someone in person — and when needed for such situations, I am very grateful for the blessing of this technology.

The underlying message here is the negative aspect of change in regard to social etiquette. Change is often tagged as a decline or a loss, even when the shift is morally neutral. The reality is that these are communication tools to be used, with no one tool being more or less moral than another.

More important than the delivery tool is the actual message. What we say has the ability to build up or tear down (Eph. 4:29). A careless word will hurt another person whether we speak it in person or Tweet about it.

The selection of communication tools before us today isn’t final. Those will change in years to come, requiring new social rules for the new social tools. Whatever those new tools will be, what won’t change is God’s prescription for life-giving communication:

  • “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6, ESV).
  • “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24, ESV).
  • “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Prov. 16:24, ESV)
  • “Be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32, ESV)