Etiquette in a Digital World

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In our digital world of tweets, pokes and pings, it’s easy to forget about the basics of etiquette. After all, when you can do just about anything with a click of a button, from banking to shopping to dating – the time spent practicing real, face-to-face relationships can take a toll. I’m no master on decorum, but from the wisdom passed on from my older sisters and mother, seeing peers with admirable people skills in action, and making some etiquette bloopers that caused for some awkward moments, I’ve picked up a lesson or two on how to behave with good manners. Granted, what is deemed polite in North America can very well be considered rude on the other side of the world. So in this post, I will refer to some etiquette points that are too often forgotten.

Put down your phone during meetings and dinners

Yes you are very important. But really, if you don’t respond to that email or ping immediately, will someone die? Will you lose your job or client? Is it that important to respond right away that you’d risk disrespecting the person who is present at that moment with you? Would you open a newspaper in the midst of a dinner conversation and ignore the person choosing to spend their time with you? The answer to both questions is likely no. We have created such habits of instant communication and the instant reaction to communication, that we trade off the importance of focus and presence with real life company. Of course, there are going to be exceptions from time to time, but unless you’re with a robot, it’s rude to be distracted with your phone when you really should be present with the person who’s in the flesh.

Don’t count on social media platforms to make or break plans

You sent your baby shower invite via Facebook events and shocked and disappointment when I don’t show up because I never saw the invite. When you have an invitation to an important event, you cannot assume that all your potential guests are glued to their monitors like you are. Pick up the phone! Also, do not cancel your plans with me via Twitter. Would you ever tweet that you’re running late for a job interview and expect that you’ll actually get hired? Again, pick up the phone. Or, if you must rely on the electronic transfer of information, make sure you get a reply before you assume the person received the message regarding the change of plans.

Relationships are based on an exchange of value

Regardless of the type – romantic, platonic, or professional – this holds true in any form of relationship. For a relationship to flow, there has to be some mutual exchange of value where a balance is reached at some point in time. In other words, “gimme gimme gimme” wears thin fast; especially in today’s world of relentless self promotion, where everyone and their dog have their own personal brand, and reaching out to a large quantity of people is easier than ever before. As my friend Devon Brooks, founder of Blo Dry Bar, put it best, “What are the ingredients you bring to the table? How do you make people feel?” People dislike feeling they are taken from – so stop thinking about what you can get, and think about what you can give. And in some magical way, attribute it to karma or some other crazy law of the universe, you really will experience that what you give comes back to you in some shape or form.

The old adage may sound cheesy, but it’s entirely true, “Treat people the way you’d like to be treated”. Don’t let distraction of Twitter and checking in on FourSquare allow you to disrespect the company you keep. The Twitterverse will survive not knowing where you ate for lunch today. Invest in the relationships that are right in front of you, ones that are built through time, trust and effort, and not banished with the simple “Unfriend” or “Unfollow” button.

Photo credit: Matt Hamm

3 Comments

  • Reply November 25, 2010

    aliceko17

    Amy this was such a fantastic article. There have been COUNTLESS times in the past year where I would want to stand up at a restaurant and scream at friends for being so rude and typing on their Blackberry.

  • Reply November 29, 2010

    Andi

    Ahhhh I HATE when people use their phones at the table. :(

  • Reply July 19, 2014

    Anaregina

    Thank you for writing this is article, I definitely needed to be reminded of this, and I love the way you ended it! It has a strong ending. :)

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