The Social Etiquette of Technology

Posted by in Musings




As technology continues to develop at an exponential rate, our society simultaneously needs to evolve culturally in order to adapt.  Technology not only propels our society to new levels of betterment, it also shapes new forms of etiquette that spontaneously arise, either practically or entirely arbitrarily, from technological development.  For example, as cars began to dominate the streets, soon it was proper to allow the right of way to pedestrians.  As cell phones penetrated every corner of the global, it became improper to speak on the phone in constrained public places.  I am most fascinated by the culture of the internet and social communication, so despite the fact that there is a pleuthera of other sources of technologically inspired etiquette, I will focus on “Netiquette!”

Netiquette, clearly derived from “internet etiquette” or “network etiquette,” refers to the general social rules that apply to acceptable behavior exhibited by the internet user.  Like traditional forms of etiquette, it isn’t strictly limited to what you shouldn’t do, but also what is looked more favorably upon.  For example, in a comment thread on an opinion article, not only is it “wrong” to be blatantly rude to other posters, it is also frowned upon to have a comment that is absurdly long.  No one wants to read an entire dissertation in response to the article of interest.  It’s unnecessary and just gets annoying.

The culture that has evolved from Facebook is a prime example of the development of culture based on technology.  I’m proud to say I signed up for a facebook account within the first year of it’s creation, so I’ve had the pleasure of watching it grow and develop.  I’ve noticed how in the beginning of facebook, people felt uncomfortable bringing up publicly that they knew what was happening in their friend’s, or more so extended friend’s, lives’. However as Facebook added photos, videos and most importantly the news feed, mentioning recent events that have happened to your friends has become an acceptable conversation starter!  In fact, I’ll go as far to say that actively “facebook stalking” friends is a way to stay “close” to friends one doesn’t see regularly, and people appreciate when others recognize things that have happened to you.  It makes you feel like people care about you.  (I’m speaking from personally experience; I recently announced the medical school I will attend next year and got dozens of “likes” and comments.  Naturally it made me feel loved!)

Cell phones also fit the profile of technology inducing social etiquette to a T.  Obviously it’s rude to text someone while you talking to somebody else.  We also know it’s rude to leave the ringer on in places such as the movies, a meeting, or at the dinner table.  But other more subtle expectations have formed as a result of cell phones too.  Given the assumption that everyone has their cell phone with them at all times, which is pretty much true, we expect responses more quickly than we used to in the past.  In the old days of corded phones, if you called a home phone and left a message, it was understood that you may have to wait a few hours, or even up to a day, until a response is returned.  However, now they will instantly have that message, so 3 hours or so is the upper limit of time allowed for a call or text back.

And what about texting?  Since texting doesn’t necessarily take us away from our current duties entirely, it’s more allowed to shoot a quick text than have a conversation on the phone.  Therefore, texts are expected more quickly than a phone call.  (Don’t even get me started about cell phones between two people pursuing a relationship….that’s a whole other can of worms.)

Technological etiquette is such a driving force that NPR hosted a very intriguing piece discussing it’s implications.  I urge you to listen to the entire show because it is rather intellectually stimulating.  Even further, books have been written on the subject, such as Virginia Shea’s aptly named novel Netiquette.

I will stop there because knowing myself, I could talk ad nauseum about the subject.  But other things such as the implications of text messages; the proper way to email close friends, not so close friends, coworkers, bosses, etc; what facebook photos you should and shouldn’t post; blah blah blah.  If you have learned anything from this post, then you know to comment your thoughts….but be short and concise PLEASE!