Have manners gone by the wayside or have they just taken on a new form?
Social issues and events today are dramatically different from those of previous generations. Today, Facebook and texting are more popular tools for keeping in touch, as opposed to formal conversation at gatherings and parties. We prefer conversations on Facebook or cell phones rather than face-to-face ones, or at least, we have more of them. Typing has largely replaced handwriting while symbols, abbreviated forms of language and expressions are substitutes for written words and phrases. Our generation’s dependency on cyberspace for communication and information has had a significant impact on our personal etiquette and manners.
For years, many people have relied upon and continue to reference the advice presented in Emily Post’s and Letitia Baldridge’s books on proper manners and etiquette. These women were experts in the field of the correct decorum in social and official situations. They taught their readers how to properly write handwritten thank-you notes, send invitations, respond to invitations, introduce people to one another, set a table, assign seats to guests at a table, etc. Their guidelines have been handed down from one generation to the next and represent the standard for what is truly proper and more personal to many people today.
In today’s age of fully packed family schedules and electronic communication, many families and individuals have abandoned the Post and Baldridge recommendations, adopting a different type of etiquette protocol. Though we know that it is appropriate to practice good manners, we may not have the time to handwrite a thank-you note or send an invitation via “snail mail” (the name came from somewhere, after all). They, instead, may opt to email or text a thank-you acknowledgment or invite friends over with an Evite, Facebook event or group email. Although a less personal approach, it is still an acknowledgment and form of communication.
Some may argue that today’s technological progress in the communication and media worlds have also contributed to bad manners and impersonal standards. They argue that texting or talking on cell phones with friends or business associates in all kinds of different venues — be it at an office, movie, church, classroom, restaurant or check out line — is inconsiderate of the other people around them. Personal conversations should be had in the privacy of one’s own environment.
As a result, many institutions have implemented policies to forbid cell phone usage in their establishments. Regardless of the intention behind these precautions, it’s pretty hard to stamp out the technology bug that’s bitten us: No matter how clever the “silence your cell phone” ads are in movie theatres, there will always be at least one member of the audience who absolutely has to be texting a friend.
Society’s fixation on electronics has grown beyond inconsideration and is now dangerous. Many users of handheld gaming, computing or texting devices have become so preoccupied with the information on their screen that they do not realize what is going on in the world around them. Many states and the District of Columbia have instituted laws banning the use of certain handheld devices because of the danger they pose to drivers on the road. Sometimes, our constant contact is more than just a social nuisance — it’s a dangerous distraction.
Etiquette can’t really die, but it’s certainly changed shape over the years. The Post and Baldridge suggestions are less relevant in the digital age. We try to be conscientious of how we treat our peers, but when we’re in constant contact — whether it is via cell phone or social network — the line between personal and interpersonal norms becomes fuzzy. What we might say over the internet from afar may creep into a face-to-face interaction, and it’s not always a good thing. The old handbooks may be out of date, but we still can’t forget to think about our manners as we block walking paths while texting.
Emily Manbeck is a freshman in the College. She is an assistant editor for the opinion section.