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"Thank you" cards seem a quaint relic of the past. But do we not even acknowledge gifts?

Technology snarls etiquette even more

Debra Nussbaum

is an adjunct journalism professor at Rowan University

When Emily Post penned her famous tome on etiquette in 1922, she never could have envisioned that, decades down the road, there would need to be many new chapters written on civility and manners, thanks to technology.

E-mails, texts, Facebook messages, and tweets have presented modern dilemmas on what constitutes polite behavior. The biggest challenge for many of us may be figuring out when communicating electronically is just not appropriate.

One area where many people young and old (but mostly young) seem to struggle is in the arena of giving proper thanks for gifts. At this time of year, it is very noticeable when presents go without acknowledgment, or, almost as egregious, when the giver of a most thoughtful token receives a text that says, "thx."

At the risk of sounding like I am stuck in an era of record players and Farrah Fawcett hairdos, I have to say there are times when a thank-you note is best. We still need to have occasions where someone takes the time to express gratitude on a piece of stationery and where the giver feels that someone cared enough to take a few minutes to say thanks. A two-sentence e-mail just isn't the same, although it is a giant step up from no response at all.

"At this point, I'm grateful for any recognition or appreciation, in whatever form," said Shari Steinberg, a retired teacher from the Philadelphia suburbs who was among hundreds who responded to my first column on manners in this section last summer. At times, especially when the recipient is a child, an e-mail or phone call might be appropriate, but many gifts require more than that, especially wedding gifts, Steinberg said. "For an important gift, a written thank-you note with a personal comment is still expected," she said. "I wonder whether thank-you notes are expected only by 'seniors' now and unknown to younger people."

Etiquette experts, at least those who make rules for brides, would agree with Steinberg. In fact, Diane Forden, Bridal Guide editor-in-chief, tells brides on her website that a thank-you note goes to each and every wedding guest, whether the person gave a gift or not. And, the note must be written within three months of the wedding.

But at this gift-giving time of year, we sometimes see a careless attitude by those on the receiving end. Saying nothing at all about a gift borders on crass, and saying over and over again, "But I didn't want you to get me anything," isn't much better.

When people take the time to write, preferably a note, they show a sense of class and style that is often overlooked today.

"I believe a note is more personal," said Monica Wilborn of Willow Grove. "It just shows you actually took time to sit and think about what to say. It's also something the recipient can keep." She is trying to pass that lesson on to her children.

No doubt, thoughts on proper thanking are somewhat generational. My 24-year-old daughter, Molly, said she makes an effort to write thank-you notes, particularly to older relatives, but likes to e-mail because it's so much more immediate.

But she also sees the value of a letter. Last year, when she helped a graduate student with a project, the woman wrote her a note of appreciation. "I was completely touched because no one does that," she said. "It was incredibly thoughtful and sweet. I would have been satisfied with an e-mail, but the fact she wrote me a card was very nice."

While I have always tried to be a thank-you note writer, I have made my mistakes in the area of expressing gratefulness. Years ago I wrote an older relative a note thanking her for a glass ashtray. Even though it wasn't something we would use, I appreciated her thoughtfulness. She responded to my thank-you a week later with a note of her own that said, "It's not an ashtray, it's a candy dish. No one smokes anymore, dear."