Digital Etiquette Matters in 2011
Although technology has made it possible to be connected 24/7, it has changed how people interact with one another and not always for the better; digital etiquette has moved to the back burner. The outcomes range from annoying – using a cellphone while in a public bathroom – to tragic, as evidenced by the recent suicide of a Rutgers student after discovering his roommate had posted private video of him online. Have we reached a tipping point in 2011 when we say enough and start behaving with more e-civility and responsibility?
By Kara Reinsel, Senior Strategist
Digital etiquette is about using manners when online and being responsible users of technology. Because technology has blurred the lines between home, work, professional and personal space, it has become more difficult to discern when something is appropriate and when it’s not. Complaints about the lack of what is considered proper digital etiquette are not new; however, a number of events in 2010 revealed how egregious this matter has become.
A generation gap exists between digital natives and people who remember the world before smartphones, laptops and iPods were ubiquitous. Implications of this gap range from the trivial to the serious. Almost half of all people under 25 think it’s fine to engage in text messaging during a meal.1
However, that number drops to 27% for people over 25.2
Disagreements over whether someone should or should not text at dinner can be frustrating but are easily remedied.
A weightier issue is how different generations feel about personal information being shared via digital devices and with whom the information is shared. In September 2010, Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, killed himself after discovering that an intimate encounter he had was secretly recorded and then broadcast online by his roommate.3
In the wake of his death, there were calls to teach not only digital etiquette but digital citizenship to young adults. According to experts, young people don’t understand that any information they share via a digital device can be tracked and retrieved even if it’s deleted.4
Moreover, the anonymity of the Web gives young people a false sense of security to say and do things online that they would not do in the physical world. According to one Rutgers student, “Nobody has come out and said, ‘This is how it’s supposed to be.’ There are no guidelines set down for us when we start using the Internet at an early age – or any age – so I think it’s a free for all.”5
Implications and Action Items
In 2011, look for universities, businesses and individuals to address digital etiquette in ways that are relevant to the audience:
1. Universities and Schools – A reported 65% of colleges already provide counseling on online privacy.6
1 Retrevo Gadetology Study. Is Social Media a New Addiction?, March 15, 2010
2. Businesses – Changing digital etiquette in the workplace begins with change at the top; if the senior executives don’t check their BlackBerries during meetings, neither will anyone else. Digital etiquette workshops may become increasingly popular to help employees become more conscientious and aware. Moreover, companies may consider implementing informal technology-free zones such as encouraging employees not to bring smartphones to meetings. Logical next steps include offering these programs in middle and high schools and expanding the curriculum to cover what is and isn’t appropriate digital behavior and how to use technology responsibly. In addition, universities may consider having students pledge to follow a “digital etiquette honor code” similar to academic honor codes.
3. Individuals – Akin to the Family Game Night, friends and families may start to implement technology-free nights when they turn off smartphones, Wii sets, laptops and MP3 players so they can enjoy an evening together without digital interruptions.
3 NPR. “Schools Urged to Teach Youth Digital Citizenship,” October 6, 2010
4 Niagara Gazette. “FBI Warns Cyber-bullying on the Rise,” December 15, 2010
5 NPR. “Schools Urged to Teach Youth Digital Citizenship,” October 6, 2010
6 The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Colleges Push for New Technology Despite Budget Woes,” October 14, 2010