I think we all have a few things that annoy us when it comes to the Internet and social media. Some of mine: unnecessary reply-alls, adding me to a Facebook group if I don’t know you and we haven’t discussed the group, unnecessary CC when a BCC would suffice, people who insist you must follow them on Twitter if they follow you, e-vites for formal occasions (anything to do with a baby or wedding). Another is something that just happened. I emailed a politician I’ve talked with in the past and CC’ed one of his staffers. Then today I see that staff has added me to their generic email list.
Via Stephen Kruiser with PJ Media I saw this post at the New Yorker on Emily Post’s “netiquette.” Of course, Emily Post has since left us, so the advice is being given by her great-great-grandson, Daniel Post Senning.
Senning begins his book by promising that he writes “for technophiles and technophobes alike.” But it’s the latter who stand to gain the most from the manual, if they think to pick it up at all. Readers will encounter tips like “Need to know something or how to do something? The Google search is a new norm for finding out anything instantly,” and “Be sure to engage in the back-and-forth of the Twitter conversation.” Some will dismiss misguided instructions: “As a general rule, don’t open e-mails that don’t have a subject line.” And his earnest, perhaps clichéd, suggestions for commenters–“leave the flame-thrower at home,” “know your own hot buttons,” and “never insult or question someone’s intelligence or integrity”–are endearingly reasonable but misunderstand the ruthlessness of trolls. This book will not reform the discourteous, but it may coach the naïve.
In 1976, the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, writing about linguistic etiquette on the island of Java, noted, “It is nearly impossible to say anything without indicating the social relationship between the speaker and listener in terms of status and familiarity.” This describes the Internet today, from the wording of an e-mail to a request on Facebook, not to mention subtweets and Snapchat. Every pixel is embedded with agenda: argumentative, promotional, admiring, documentary, yearning for simulated intimacy. Geertz added another complication, too: status is communicated “not only intentionally in terms of word selection within the speaker’s dialect but unintentionally in terms of the dialect he uses as a whole.” Replace “dialect” with “platform”–Facebook versus Twitter, e-mail versus Gchat–and the same truth holds. When is it appropriate to post a message on someone’s wall rather than tweet or write an e-mail? The sender could advertise familiarity on an open forum–and thus might stand to gain–or defer to the privacy of a direct message. There’s a compelling argument to be made against the public exchange.
Many have handed down commandments on the rules of Web manners. Etiquette is a public performance, just as it was a century ago–but now “public” has become synonymous with “on the Internet.” Underlying all the prescriptions is the vanishing line between the manners of the analog universe and those of its virtual counterpart, since we move so seamlessly from one to the other. Senning writes, “In an increasingly connected world, it is up to each individual to set boundaries.” We will be judged, then, by the standard of presence–the courtesy of acknowledging our surroundings.