Microsoft UK’s token Long Hair, Dave Coplin, spoke at Research Now last week about how new technology is forcing new social rules for how we interact and engage with each other. His example, from his experiences of family snapshots last summer, is when someone proffers you their mobile phone to show you a photo from their holiday, is it good or bad etiquette to swipe?
Manners and etiquette are things that evolved. For example, in my twenty years of working, acceptable business dress has changed so that now it is far less common to see people in ties when commuting by train than it once was. Photographs of London from around the time in which I was born still showed a large proportion of the male City workforce in bowler hats.
Etiquette can even evolve without anyone saying anything: a quick flash of the hazard lights seems to have evolved in the last decade or so as a way to give thanks in a car, particularly on motorways. No words were exchanged in the development of that norm.
The fast change of how we interact with and alongside technology, though, is seeming to force us to adapt to new rules quicker than before: yesterday I saw a long debate emerge on LinkedIn as a contact bemoaned having had her contacts plundered by a new connection on the social network. Was this acceptable social behaviour, she asked her network? I also went off on one about “multitasking” rudeness…
On the one hand, rude is rude. On the other, information technology seems to have something of an autistic effect on people where behaviour that would be unacceptable in a person-to-person environment (face to face or even on the phone) is perpetrated via email or on social networks: think trolling, cyber bullying and even just blunt rudeness by email. That latter category is something that isn’t helped by a generation of quite frankly unacceptably rude automated messages generated without thought for tone of voice by machines.
Ultimately, as social creatures, we’ll work out the rules for how we interact. We might though have to understand that for the foreseeable future, etiquette will be trailing what we’re doing with technology more than maybe we’ve been used to in the past.
* I’m indebted to my old chum Chris who brought this term to my attention.