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Do I really have to use Gchat?

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Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask jess@dailydot.com.

Everyone in my small dorm uses Google chat to check whether people are available—like, instead of calling or texting, they send a chat saying, “I’m going to go get ice cream, who wants to come?” I think it’s stupid, but I guess the idea is that they can see whether you’re online and available, and won’t wake you up from a nap or whatever. I don’t have Gmail and don’t want it—I got mad at Google because of how they handled pseudonyms when Google+ started, and I haven’t seen anything since that makes me feel better about them. But this means I feel like I’m getting left out of plans. I just transferred here this year and I don’t want unnecessary stumbling blocks to my social life, but do I really have to create a Google account just so I know when people are going to dinner?

I mean, you never HAVE to avail yourself of the technology other people are using to communicate with each other, no. You don’t have to get email—you’ll just miss out on some emailed conversations. You don’t need a phone—you just won’t get any calls. You don’t need to have a Facebook account—you just won’t see all the pictures. (Most of them will be pictures of babies, though, so whatevs.)

Google Hangouts is available as a phone app (not a VERY good one, in my experience) or a download for your computer, so you don’t need to actually have a Gmail account to use it; you can sign up with another email address. You’d still be using a Google product, and only you can decide whether that goes against your principles. You’re not giving them any money, so it seems to me it would probably be fine, but I don’t know your life. So that’s one option.

Another is to have a designated text or phone friend, who translates the plans into the technology you prefer once they’ve become finalized. This plan has several pitfalls, most notably that this person would need to be a REALLY good friend, one you can trust to always think of you and never get annoyed that you’re adding an extra step to the planning process. If you can think of someone like that, I’d say it’s kosher to just say, “Hey, I don’t have this technology, can I ask you to call/text/knock on my door if you’re going somewhere? I don’t mind if you wake me up.” (Then you need to really NOT MIND if they wake you up. This is the cost, okay? Because if you get cranky even once they’ll be like “Well we HAD a solution worked out for that, JERK.” Okay, they probably won’t, but I would.)

The school year is brand new and you’re new at the school, so if I were you, I’d try the stand-alone Hangouts app for a little while, on the “when in Rome” principle. Once you know people well enough to designate a phone-a-friend, you can mention that you prefer a different medium. And if all else fails, just move to a dorm where they text.

Jess Zimmerman has been making social blunders on the Internet since 1994. Most of her current interpersonal drama takes place on Twitter (@j_zimms).

Photo by Kristin Nordine/Flickr