Everyone's an Etiquette Expert Now

It may be the chorus most heard in these modern times: technology and the way we use it has killed etiquette entirely. (Thank you?). Fortunately, the good people at the New York Times have set to work debunking this theory. Etiquette is everywhere. Is it still etiquette, though?

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It may be the chorus most heard in these modern times: technology and the way we use it has killed etiquette entirely. (Thank you?). Fortunately, the good people at The New York Times have set to work debunking this theory. In a perfectly polite article, Alex Williams explains that not only is etiquette not dead in modern times, but also, modern times have brought entirely new ways to do "etiquette." And etiquette is everywhere, in venues old and new. Is it still etiquette, though?

There is, in fact, a whole new breed of manners-mongers to note. These are people who use the technology at their disposal to tell other people how to behave better: "a new generation of etiquette gurus, good-manner bloggers and self-appointed YouTube arbiters is rising to make old-fashioned protocols relevant to a new generation." Don't know whether it's rude to spit into your gym towel? Check YouTube! Aren't sure if you should clasp a stranger to you warmly and deliver an enthusiastic noogie upon first introduction? Google it! Unclear on the "rules" for nude beach sunbathing? Again, YouTube. The proliferation of people willing to instruct on any number of ways to live one's life in a less annoying or shameful way, in real life and online, too (like, say, how to behave on Twitter), is astounding.  

As Williams writes, it may in fact be "the fastest-growing area of social advice — one that has spawned not just videos but also Web sites, blogs and books" — this dissection of proper "netiquette." As etiquette writer Steven Petrow tells Williams, "We’re living in an age of anxiety that’s a reflection of the near-constant change and confusion in technology and social mores." And so, there are websites and bloggers and YouTube videos and 140-character Twitter assistances, and even a surge in print books, to teach us what to do, how to combat this "new normal."

But I think there's more to it than that, an insidious underbelly of etiquette that goes beyond simple niceness and instruction and into, well, something a little bit more rude, or at least, involving everyone's right to have an opinion online, and for us all to shout those opinions as loud as we feel like in hopes that someone might hear and want to pay attention, too. Is it really that we're all confused about how to do things with the "new technologies"? Or is it simply that being an etiquette expert is something the new technologies allow a person to do, without the benefit of having been born into the Post family? It's a manners free-for-all, this Web 3.0, where everyone from professionals to confident amateurs with Internet connections are able to diagnose and explain what's better. This is both the great beauty, and sometimes the great horror, of online life, where much is good, and much else should be taken with several grains of salt—but only the reader can decide which, for him or herself.

All this advice doesn't mean the etiquette questions of old have been fully resolved, though. Books are still being written that address what you're supposed to do with your cell phone at the dinner table. (Hint: Don't talk on it, unless you're dining via Facetime.) Williams explains that some of this new etiquette surge might be because youngsters are a little bit taken by the "retro allure" of etiquette, since, as Pam Krauss, a publisher of a new manners guide, says, those poor children did not get their manners guidance "passed down from their parents or grandparents the way it would have been in years past.” I for one don't know what she's talking about. My parents and grandparents told me very clearly not to chew with my mouth open, to use an "inside voice" when inside, and that we could not answer the phone during dinner. What they didn't tell me, however, was how to teach others etiquette online.

Fortunately, there's plenty of guidance to be found in that regard right at my fingertips. In modern times, when being seen and not heard is a detriment rather than a key part of mannerly behavior, there are more folks telling you what to do than ever. Be nice! 

Image via Shutterstock by imageegami.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.