04 August 2009

Minding our manners

Following a series of conversations with others pertaining to the manner in which individuals choose to share information in social media, it occurs to me that we are bearing witness to changes to the standards of polite society – the new etiquette in social media.

A sense of decorum, those beliefs to which we adhere regarding the boundaries of appropriate and inappropriate actions, is shaped within our individual life experiences. Family, colleagues and the social groups within which we circulate present a variety of models for the rules of etiquette.

However, as life becomes more mobile and less formal, our collective sense of societal propriety evolves in tandem. The only distinction between individuals behaving within the evolving rules becomes the rate of adopting this change. This brings us to social media.

Social networking via electronic channels is essentially designed to be convenient. Communication occurs in a one-way burst, at any time it is convenient for the speaker. Acknowledgments and replies are not immediate, and for that matter, not even required.

As with interesting website content that attracts attention and offers enough entertainment value or function for visitors to return, so it is with social media. The content is at the center of the equation for attracting friends, fans, re-tweets, followers, etc. And in the absence of truly informative or entertaining content, substitutes include a high volume of content, or even edgy (read: provocative) content.

Thus, leading to the types of conversations referenced earlier. This is an example of an economic formula applied to social norms. If the prevailing goal of society is to increase personal visibility in the electronic realm of social networking, then norms will change in order to maximize the level of satisfaction afforded to the greatest number of participants. A mere tradeoff of manners.

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