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Etiquette in the Electronic Age: Time for A Guidebook?
Chris Brogan's blog today "The Anywhen Manifesto" got me to thinking about etiquette in the electronic age. We're being constantly pulled one way and another by the demands of the new electronic media. As fast as the tech people can add features to our cell phones and laptops, televisions and Blackberries, some marketer somewhere finds a way to use that feature to pester and annoy us. They pile our computer memory with little programs that track how we use the Internet and bombard us with ads their software thinks we want to see.
They even claim it's a service to us, as all the while our computers gradually run slower and slower, forcing us to go out and spend hard cash to buy other software that takes off the software spies that were placed on our computers without permission in the first place. The new electronic communications media piles images, messages and demands for action on us to the point that many of us feel overwhelmed by it all - buried in e-mail, voice mail and Twitters.
The Internet and the new electronic media is, undoubtedly a young and vibrant media. Like anything young, it hasn't yet learned the value of being polite! That's to be expected. The question is, "Should the resultant crudity of the new media be tolerated by our society?"
Years ago, Emily Post wrote a thick book on etiquette that set the tone for social behavior for decades in our society. Someone codified polite behavior and those who valued polite behavior adopted her guide and set the tone for others who, though they might never have read Miss Emily, were nevertheless impacted by her strategic guide for improving the quality of life in "polite society".
Perhaps it is time to write a 21st century etiquette to guide us in deploying the new media. Can we use the strengths of the new media to overcome the nasty bits that keep cropping up as new and useful technological tools are developed?
E-mail is wonderfully useful as a tool for time-shifting. You can put off till later, the reading of your e-mail and handle it when you have time. Listserves were early and useful on-line communities that developed around this valuable characteristic of e-mail. Unfortunately, the nasty bit that came with the listserve was spam. Then came spam filters which have helped some, if not perfectly. Then came MySpace and Facebook and we soon had a kind of e-mail on steroids, but with that came the marketers and things began to be built into these tools that waste our time.
For instance, there is a little social game on Facebook called Farmville. Lots of my friends and family play it and it's actually a lot of fun. But the problem is, the marketers are busy with the game maximizing the amount of time you have to spend there to keep up your farm, thereby maximizing how long you look at the advertisements in the sidebars. The idea is to achieve a delicate balance whereby players stick with the game because they get rewarded with special junk for their electronic farms in exchange for spending hours piddling with the game and looking at ads. They are probably making pots of advertising dollars.
Now these games are everywhere and I feel obligated to play because my loved ones keep sending me stuff, but I'm beginning to realize I can't do it anymore and keep up with my career and personal things I want and need to do. These kinds of games can be very impolite. They could, I think, still achieve their purpose, though perhaps not as lucratively by incorporating some principles of politeness.
Chris Brogan posted his "Anywhen Manifesto" to address what he calls an "Assault on Anywhen". Anywhen is Chris' word for that most valuable of characteristics of the new electronic media, the ability to time-shift work or communications to a more convenient time for the user. This document is a nice start. It provides a strategic framework for pushing back against those who would take by force, the very things about the new communications technology that can potentially improve our lives.
Time-shifting is the big thing we stand to lose. Do we want to go back to the days when a telephone HAD to be answered. Twitter and text-messaging, to some extent is doing that to us, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not. Are the creators of the new technology using human weaknesses like the need for acceptance or attention to enslave us to our PDA's. It's sad, because PDA's, hi-tech cell phones and laptops have the potential to give us power over when we communicate and when we go to our kid's Little League game. Instead, some media purveyors seem intent on tying us down and cutting us off from the world around us.
Perhaps what we need is a 21st century Emily Post for the Internet Age - a guide to how to engage the basic principles of politeness as we deploy new electronic communications technology. Can we create an electronic "etiquette" that recognizes that human beings have a basic need for privacy, for control of their own time and energies and for boundaries that are recognized and respected by polite people.
Just because a new electronic tool CAN do something, does that mean it should? This should be explored. It's a great idea for a book. I do believe I will suggest that to a publisher.
That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoe-making and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse. -Mark Twain