Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Cyber Etiquette

Etiquette: the set of rules or customs which control accepted behaviour in particular social groups or social situations (Cambridge Dictionary)

In 1861, Mrs Beeton published a book of household etiquette, a rule book for the discerning housewife. Although it is something, which now, might as well be from another planet, it nevertheless raises issues over societal etiquette. At the time, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management was the be all and end all of household etiquette. If you were struggling with an issue, you turned to her, and the matter would be settled. It was a book borne of, and actively shaping, its time.

Etiquette is indeed shaped by society as it changes. Fifty years ago, it would have been unspeakable if a man did not stand up when a woman sat down at table, or did not remove his hat in a woman's presence. But these gestures are gone, swallowed up by the seeming parity of the sexes in 21st Century society. So, as we bury further into the ubiquitous world of the cyber-age, how will this affect and shape our social etiquette?

Take social networking. Are there really any rules of engagement attached to such interactions? What is the 'accepted social behaviour' of this group? For example, let's say you receive a friend request from someone you work with, but don't particulary like. Do you accept the friendship or ignore it? Do you accept with a limited profile - which is pretty much the same as a rejection? And what if you accept the friendship (to save face) and later simply delete that person (for which he/she receives no notification). Is it acceptable to ask someone why they have deleted you, or is that 'simply not cricket'? Even Mrs Beeton (in one of her prophetic moments) warns us: Friendships should not be hastily formed, nor the heart given, at once, to every new-comer' (http://www.mrsbeeton.com/).

Social networking is as bit of an non sequitur. It's not social at all in the sense of engaging in human interaction. It isn't  networking either, if you can't really be sure of the validity of the information about the person you are 'networking' with. So, how can a set of rules be established for something that is essentially undefinable?

Perhaps that's why we like it so much. It's random, anonymous and has no boundaries. Is this what we can expect from the 21st Century? Let's hope not.

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