4.8 A Definition of Polite Computing

Politeness has been generally defined as being considerate to another in a social situation. If the person being considered knows what is “considerate” for them, politeness can be defined abstractly as the giving of choice to another in a social interaction. This is then always considerate given only that the other knows what is good for him or her. The latter assumption may not always be true, e.g. in the case of a young baby. In a conversation where the locus of channel control passes back and forth between parties, it is polite to give control to the other party (Whitworth, 2005), e.g. it is impolite to interrupt someone, as that removes their choice to speak, and polite to let them finish talking, as they then choose when to stop. This gives a definition of politeness that can be used in computing as:

“… any unrequired support for situating the locus of choice control of a social interaction with another party to it, given that control is desired, rightful and optional.”(Whitworth, 2005, p355)

Unrequired means the choice given is more than required by the law, as a required choice is not politeness.

Optional means the polite party has the ability to choose, as politeness is voluntary.

Desired by the receiver means giving choice is only polite if the other wants it, e.g. “After you” is not polite when facing a difficult task. Politeness means giving desired choices, not forcing the locus of control, with its burden of action, upon others.

Finally, rightful means that consideration of someone acting illegally is not polite, e.g. to considerately hand a gun to a serial killer about to kill someone is not politeness,

Based on this definition, we can formulate politeness for online cases.