Email, smartphones, Twitter and Facebook have made it a brand new world for etiquette. Emily Post can't help us with contemporary conundrums of politeness -- how do you avoiding annoying people with email (while also ensuring everyone who needs to gets the message)? If you're having lunch with someone should you ignore your bleeping phone or are you being rude to the caller?
Without your grandmother's admonitions to guide you, young people are forced to navigate a social landscape mined liberally with technology as best they can. A whole host of guides are offering contradictory advice, however. Peggy Nelson, in an in-depth post at Nieman Storyboard, argues that attending to your phone over dinner isn't the serious sin against etiquette it first appears to be, as "we've moved from the etiquette of the individual to the etiquette of the flow." (HT to kottke.org)
This is not mob rule, nor is it the fearsome hive mind, the sound of six billion vuvuzelas buzzing. This is not individuals giving up their autonomy or their rational agency. This is individuals choosing to be in touch with each other constantly, exchanging stories and striving for greater connection. The network does not replace the individual, but augments it. We have become individuals-plus-networks, and our ideas immediately have somewhere to go. As a result we're always having all of our conversations now, flexible geometries of nodes and strands, with links and laughing and gossip and facts flying back and forth. But the real message is movement.... Eventually I learned to stop worrying and love the flow.But not everyone loves the flow. In one of my favorite tweets ever, blogger Scott Simpson declares a new standard of cool (which I have since adopted and which my iPhone addicted better half routinely falls short of):
My new standard of cool: when I'm hanging out with you, I never see your phone ever ever ever.And finally, Anita Bruzzese weighed in on her blog recently with three tips to help you quit being rude with technology at work.
- Be stingy with the attachments. Is firing off a quick e-mail with an attachment that will take three hours for the other person to read really fair?
- Set guidelines. Get together with colleagues and agree that you're going to be more cognizant of when to use technology â€" and when not to. Get colleagues -- and bosses -- to decide no more Blackberries, pagers or cell phones will be allowed in meetings. Mass e-mails will only be sent in dire circumstances. Anyone who violates the policy more than once has to buy everyone coffee the next morning.
- Be sender sensitive. Before sending an electronic or voice message, consider where, when and how the person will be receiving it. Do you really need to send a message on the weekend? Is it really fair to send urgent work to someone coming off a week-long business trip? Can your message wait until the person finishes up a big project?
(Image of two girls on the phone by Pink Sherbert Photography, CC 2.0)