Question: One of my siblings is upset with me because I have taken to sending out e-mail cards for different occasions, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays. She says it is not personal enough and that I should take the time to select cards for her and pay the money. When are e-greetings appropriate? Are e-mail thank-yous as appropriate as handwritten notes?
Answer: There's no black-and-white answer. Etiquette guidelines evolve as our culture changes. Twenty years ago we didn't need etiquette guidelines for cell phone use, but they are essential today. The etiquette for texting, social networking, e-greetings, and e-mail invites is still evolving.
Some people are perfectly happy to receive holiday cards in their e-mail box rather than in a mailbox. Others (your sister is obviously part of this group!) find the practice impersonal or annoying—and are usually similarly irritated by jokes sent via mass e-mail. The answer? E-greetings can be appropriate if your recipients are comfortable receiving them. With so many online options for e-cards, you can spend the same amount of time selecting an appropriate e-greeting as you would purchasing a card at a store. It can certainly be economical to send e-greetings, and there's the "green" factor too. The trick is to limit e-greetings to friends and family members who are enthusiastic about this kind of communication. If you're unsure, just ask, since not everyone in your circle may be as vocal as your sister. Say, "Did my Valentine's Day card make it to your in box? What did you think of it?"
When it comes to thank-yous, handwritten notes are warmer and more special than other forms of saying thanks. It's never wrong to send a handwritten thank-you note. The rule of thumb is that you should send a written thank-you note any time you receive a gift and the giver wasn't there for you to thank in person. But there are exceptions. For example, if the gift is from a close friend or relative, it's fine to e-mail or call instead—if that is your usual form of communication and you sense the person would be happy to hear from you electronically. Immediacy is another advantage of e-mail. A prompt e-mail of thanks for a gift that lets the person know you've received it is sufficient. If you wish, you can also send your handwritten note as extra thanks.