Etiquette in the Digital Age

Simplistic sketch by Jonny EberleRemember the good old days, when a gentleman remained standing until all of the ladies in a room were seated, when people removed their hats when coming inside, and when not leaving your calling card was considered a grave insult?

Yeah, me neither.

However, I do remember a time before the Internet was such a big deal. We knew how to interact then. You held doors open for strangers and you let the other car go before you if you came to a stop sign at the same time. Today, we live so much of our lives online and the rules of etiquette haven’t quite made the transition from the real world to the digital one.

The online world is about as far as you can get from polite society. It’s a wild, lawless frontier where anything goes. Veiled by anonymity (and empowered by it), people lash out with comments carefully crafted to punch little holes in your soul. People think nothing of sharing their most moronic, violent, offensive, racist, and sexist thoughts with the entire Twitterverse (and they don’t even have the common courtesy to spell it right). Perhaps worst of all, millions of denizens of the Interwebs post photos of their pets dressed up as people. This madness must be stopped.

I wish there was a guide for behavior on Facebook and it’s strange to think that we have so readily accepted this social network without deciding on any ground rules. Am I allowed to untag of photos of myself that aren’t flattering? Is it morally acceptable to friend only one half of a couple? How am I supposed to act when two of my Facebook friends are having a feud? What am I supposed to say when Billy asks me why Brittany isn’t returning his Facebook messages and I know that Brittany thinks Billy is creepy and is attempting to avoid him, but he doesn’t know that she thinks that?

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe there is no problem. Maybe I shouldn’t cry myself to sleep every time I see my number of Twitter followers go down. Clearly, we can’t return to the rigidity of 1890s social norms. Heck, we shouldn’t even try to bring back the 1990s (I don’t think I could handle the sweaters). We live in a new, wireless reality and there’s no going back.

What we need is just a little bit of old fashioned manners…and top hats. We should totally make those a thing again. My point, though, if I’m coming to one, is that we should all make a conscious effort to make the Internet a civilized place, where we can disagree without resorting to obscenities, where we treat each other as human beings instead of photons on the screen, and where people do not force their dogs and cats to wear ridiculous costumes. Just a kilobyte of politeness would go a long way while we’re waiting for someone to write the definitive book on how to behave in the Information Age.

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If you enjoyed that rant, you’ll really enjoy my Twitter feed — @jonnyeberle.

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