Tweeting, texting, Facebooking, checking email, sending photos, and even, yes, old-fashioned telephone calls—we're doing it all, and we're doing it wherever and whenever we please. Mobile technology has increased our ability to connect to each other, but we're still working out the social codes that go along with this medium.
As we weave our digital relationships with our offline ones, the practice of digital etiquette is increasingly a concern. At all levels, our relationships are governed by codes of behavior which serve to regulate our interactions and help maintain the integrity of our networks. While the digital space is far from the Wild West, this present time finds us wrestling to reconcile the differences between what is acceptable in digital spaces versus offline spaces. And really, as etiquette guide Anna Post notes, it's not so much that digital spaces require new behaviors—because common sense rules about relationships and social interactions still apply—but that the shift in the space in which we interact forces a heightened awareness of how we are perceived, and this awareness results in some uneasiness.
For the most part, we play our roles within our groups without thinking about it. You don't get home and switch into "family mode" or "dinner with friends mode" or get to work and pull on your professional mask—at least not consciously. The digital space requires a more conscious effort because the social cues that allow us to exercise our roles are largely lacking. For example, body language provides a wealth of information that we use to modify our responses and guide our interactions. There is far more opportunity for deceit online—or put another way: to intentionally manipulate perceptions.
Nineteen percent of survey respondents (pdf) admitted to sharing false information online, which Post believes is the negative aspect of controlling our images online. She notes that we all engage in some degree of identity curation: for example, job hunters routinely take down online pages or go through their profiles with a fine toothed comb. Of course, the wrinkle in this kind of identity management is that we can't control what others may say about or post about us—the seat of our anxiety may be the challenge presented by the immediacy of mobile technology.
"We all seeing each other online, and we're seeing people who do it right and people who do it wrong," said Post. And it seems that the cases of "wrong" are instances where immediacy gets the better of us, as Intel's list of top digital pet peeves suggests:
- People who constantly complain (59 percent)
- People who post inappropriate/explicit photos (55 percent)
- People who share information that they would consider to be private (53 percent)
These irritations may be our preliminary guide to establishing digital etiquette. If these behaviors are the ones that bother us the most, use them as a digital mirror and try to avoid making the same mistakes. "A pause doesn't hurt," says Post. "Take the time to process the information yourself before making it public."
As social as mobile technology allows us to be, it also imparts a sense of independence which decreases our sense of connectivity even as we work to be more connected—it's a strange phenomenon no doubt. However we have to accept that our online spaces are shares spaces, and we invite others into those spaces when we participate in mobile social behaviors. The golden rule of digital etiquette may be simple: Don't make people uncomfortable. "Do you have to be the first person to post a photo of a bride in her dress? Or share how excited you are your friend is pregnant?" asked Post. Her message is a direct one: Allow others to control their information just as you would like to control yours.
While we navigate these waters of change, Post offered the following guidelines for digital behaviors:
- Keep it positive. No one wants to hear how awful your life is. All. The. Time. And Framingham showed that happiness can be contagious.
- Don't scoop other people's news. Have a "me-first" policy so that you're taking charge of your information, and not always sharing information that belongs to others.
- Take a breath. You don't always have to be first to post. Take some time and process the information.
- Be authentic. Your online and offline selves should be congruent. Don't lie—the information will ultimately circle back to someone who can out you.
What other rules would you suggest or like to see implemented as we establish digital social codes?