What Would Emily Do: Manners for a Digital Era
Although the subject of manners and etiquette has long been an important factor in shaping society, we can all acknowledge that the times they are a-changin’. From social networking to social graces, Emily Post was the face of American etiquette and created our country’s awareness about civility and manners beginning in 1922 with the publishing of the first edition of her seminal work Etiquette. However, ninety years later, rules of how to be polite and act properly have evolved significantly to survive in a modern culture. Most hot button issues revolve around proper phone and texting etiquette, but also question when it’s okay to “unfriend” someone on Facebook. With such a focus on non-personal digital interaction (and maybe the over-sharing of “too much information” in social media) , many have been left pondering if manners haven’t eroded entirely from today’s society. NPR, in fact, examined this very topic back in March with “Please Read This Story, Thank You,” examining whether American society is becoming more rude.
However, with the publishing of the eighteenth edition of Etiquette last year (and rumors of a Warner Bros. film adaptation in the works), a new generation of Posts—Anna Post, Lizzie Post, and Daniel Post Senning, Emily Post’s great-great grandchildren—have adapted the original work to apply to modern day manners. We wonder what has changed about manners between 1922 and 2012 with the advance of technology? Or, more importantly, What Would Emily Do?
Cell Phone Conundrums
Ring, ring, ring. Beep, beep. Buzzzzzz. The world has been polluted with noise and commotion since the cell phone was created and began ruling the airwaves. Every moment of every day is filled with text message tones, ringtones, and the vibrations of a phone as it is switched to “silent” mode. Since when was having a conversation defined by the clicking of buttons and sending texts to people sitting next to you? Why do we permit cell phones to interrupt our family dinners, business meetings, church services, and movies? Emily might have to fight for our attention as she reminds us that real conversations existed much longer than digital communication. Extend your companions or guests the courtesy of undivided attention; maintain eye contact with people, not your phone.
Rules of the road are meant to ensure not only everyone’s safety, but also the sanity of frustrated drivers and passengers. Many states are now implementing “Don’t Text and Drive” campaigns as well as working towards banning cell phone use altogether while driving, as cell-phone related accidents and deaths have been steadily increasing in recent years. Although driving in 1922 was significantly different than in today’s society, Emily would still make certain to explain the impact of motorist manners. Driving your car requires full attention; looking at your iPod, cell phone, or GPS does not replace looking out your windshield. Signaling your intention, whether switching lanes or turning, should not be seen as optional (it is, in fact, also still a law!). Do not ever forget to consider your passengers…you have control over their safety and, frankly, their stress levels.
When you cannot avoid digital communication, follow what would be Emily’s tips to successful emailing:
- Always review your message before hitting the send button.
- Indicate the contents of the message in the subject line using no more than five words.
- Keep emails short. If lengthy communication is needed, call instead.
- Keep emails personable and professional. Using professional language will maintain your credibility.
- Always attach contact information.
Source: The Emily Post Institute.