I grew up in a very mannered household. Pleases and thank yous were used for every request. My brother and I were shuffled to the end of the driveway to wait huddled in the Massachusetts cold for rides to school, lest our friends’ parents had to turn into the driveway or, god forbid, honk. My mother used to talk-whisper the phrase “This is Jacob Porway, I’m calling for Travis DiRuzza: Is he aVAILable?” in exaggerated movements every time I picked up the phone to call my friend, anticipating my slovenly caveman grunt of “Hey, is Trav there?” My family has been late to events because no one will walk through the door first.
I am a far cry from the 1950′s gentleman my parents tried to raise me into, but I owe it to them that I still try to bring the appropriate gifts to social events or pay for the meal if I invited the other person out. As my social life has increasingly moved online, however, my manners have not migrated with it. I reply to email days late. My blog lies fallow for months at a time (read: years), and I regularly leave texts and tweets unreplied to. I am the digital equivalent of that guy with the unmowed lawn and the rainsoaked La-Z-Boy in the front yard. My mother would be rolling in her grave if 1) she weren’t still alive 2) she knew the Internet existed outside of Hotmail.
Mirroring social graces from the physical world is actually pretty easy – there’s no excuse for leaving email unreplied to for weeks at a time nor for leaving people hanging in social media silence, but there are distinct electronic interactions that don’t seem to have a physical equivalent that I’m having trouble navigating. For example, I recently followed a close friend on Twitter. His response: ”You’re just following me NOW? Some friend you are.” Apparently you can now be a bad friend for: 1) stealing your close friend’s girl/boyfriend 2) sharing a confidential secret 3) not occasionally seeing links to BuzzFeed slideshows of cats that look like famous philosophers that your friend liked.
So help me out, Internet. Help me help myself. Where’s the Emily Post for 2013? As a reminder, Emily Post wrote the authoritative manual on etiquette in the 1920′s. She didn’t merely outline do’s and don’ts though. She wrote beautifully florid descriptions of proper behavior that took into account a wide and complex array of social, political, and business mores that not only made the reader more polite, but sought to engender a more civil society overall. Take for example her advice on discussing your wife’s affairs:
“A gentleman never discusses his family affairs either in public or with acquaintances, nor does he speak more than casually about his wife. A man is a cad who tells anyone, no matter who, what his wife told him in confidence, or describes what she looks like in her bedroom. To impart details of her beauty is scarcely better than to publish her blemishes; to do either is unspeakable.”
Pretty badass (ignoring the low-grade sexism).
I don’t want to be a cad. I’m sure someone has already updated Emily Post but, if they have, I’d love to see the full volume. From discussions with other people who use the Internet a bunch, I get the sense there’s no agreed-upon rule for how to respond to that person who REALLY wants to have coffee with you but that you simply, erm, don’t. Putting these niceties down doesn’t just help make it easier for the individual to act appropriately, it also creates a context that we all agree to and are aware of as a whole. That way maybe persistent coffee guy learns that two polite emails about being “out of town” means it’s time to look elsewhere. The best example I’ve seen of this so far is the Email Manifesto (HT Aurelia Moser), but where’s the definitive guide for all the other online interactions?
If anyone wants to get started, here are some of the digital decisions that I anxiously face every day:
- Email replies: When is it OK not to reply to an e-mail, if ever?
- LinkedIn requests: It’s an easy call to write off strangers with a quiet “Ignore”, but what about ex-students? Ex-professors? Friends from high school who are in Ratt cover bands (obviously Accept)? I don’t use LinkedIn very rigorously so my filter is to pretty much accept anyone who doesn’t have a weapon in their profile pic. Maybe I’m doing it wrong though.
- Facebook friend requests: The old debate of friending close friends vs. 4th degree friends is less important to me than the strategy to avoid accumulating a horrifying mix of ex-coworkers, family members, conference attendees, and future employers who are privy to my duck face selfies. FB strategy = !LinkedIn strategy.
- Following back on Twitter: I’ve totally transitioned my following list from curated news feed to social network (due in no small part to comments like the one from the friend above). I’ve started following anyone I know, but using a Twitter list of the accounts I actually care to read as my main timeline. This is probably old news to anyone who’s dealt with this issue, but I find it funny that I’m drastically changing the way I use Twitter so as not to inadvertently offend.
- Friend promotion on Twitter: Hilarious tweet, dude! Favorite it? Retweet it? Reply with a flat “hah”? Laugh to myself alone for 2 seconds and then move on with my life? No idea.
- Self promotion on Twitter: It’s cool that you tweeted that we had an awesome breakfast conversation today. Do I favorite that? Retweet it? Am I actually tweeting out to the rest of the world that someone else thinks they had a good conversation with me? As notable as I know that is, I cannot imagine anyone else caring. Will you care if I don’t? The few times I’ve been in that situation I have literally sweat through Philip Roth levels of anxiety before clicking “Retweet”.
There are tons more, but these have caused my fingernails the most suffering. I am fully aware of how frivolous and ridiculous these questions sound. I am desperate enough that I do not care. I will endure the embarrassment of confessing my sins on a blog if you guys will help me fix them. Unless that’s a faux pas, in which case this is going to take longer than I thought.
Feel free to weigh in in the comments as politely as you dare.