With the rise of technology and lives lived increasingly online – are manners a thing of the past?
TV3 Nightline’s Kim Choe interviewed me recently on this very question in a fun segment on the lost art of etiquette. UK research suggests that the British have lost some of their quintessential British courtesy, blaming technology and the increasing pace of life. But have the wheels fallen off our manners here in New Zealand?
Manners are constantly evolving aren’t they? We don’t speak to each other as the Victorians did. And we can always expect to see conflicts between the expectations of one generation and another. If you think the next generation is particularly bad, you can take it from Socrates: “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise”.
But what is different now however is the rate of change. The means and manner of communication via technology have advanced much faster than the etiquette which should accompany it. The human, cultural process of manners lags behind.
We’ve all been offended by a friend breaking focus at a beep from their mobile, as if we’ve been dumped for a device. Competing claims for our attention, along with an expectation of instant response, have created a new kind of societal attention deficit.
And, as technology connects us, it also distances us. Most of us have experienced the disconnect between what we intended to say and how our message came across in a tweet, IM or email. Lacking body language, online communication can escalate the emotional climate quickly into a flaming row, from which no emoticon can save you. It’s for this reason email negotiation is much more likely to become unstuck than the face to face variety.
Sure, there are stylistic differences between online and offline conversations and for different forums. Nobody will thank you for a message box full of reflexive ‘thanks’ messages. The shortened format of texting and Twitter require abbreviated expression.
But people remain reassuringly the same under our headphones and behind our ipads. We all crave appreciation and recognition. To be effective we need to demonstrate consideration for others regardless of context. Trust and reciprocity are still key. Different forums certainly have their own norms, but evident disrespect for others erodes the balance in the emotional bank account, making it difficult to be effective online or off.
Whatever social network or forum, it’s good manners to be constructive. It’s easier to criticise than to find the good in people and ideas. You might be ‘right’, but an overly aggressive style stifles debate and obscures your message, just as it would in a face to face meet-up.
In short, it’s the Golden Rule your Mum taught you: treat others as you would like to be treated. Recognise, acknowledge, thank and share credit.
The frantic aspect of modern lives has reduced the time we’re able to devote to lengthy in-person interaction. We’re increasingly communicating via electronic device in an abbreviated format. But when attention is the currency of the new economy, the most successful will be those who consider the perspective of others in any interaction.
Times haven’t really changed at all.