You’re doing it right now. You’re online, engaging in some way, and that’s how you’re reading this! The Internet is an amazing thing. The Internet puts just about any piece of information you could want right at your fingertips. Today, we can communicate with people across the world at the push of a button. We can share photos, articles, even our opinions, right as our life is happening. We’ve seen entire countries overthrow their governments because of the advances in digital communication.
I am a strong supporter of the Internet and free speech. As the co-founder of the Social Media company, Shmedia, I spend a lot of time observing what the Internet has brought to our culture, and also how it is misused and abused. I regularly give brands and artists advice on how to manage their online strategy, and I do this because I see unethical uses of the Internet everyday. I regularly engage with Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, e-mail, texting, and blogging. I’ve kept a regular blog since I was 11 years old and have been using email daily ever since I met my e-mail pen pal in the 6th grade. I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to communicating effectively online, and through my years engaging in cyber communication, I’ve begun to notice something – You either naturally have adapted cyber etiquette, or you are completely in the dark… and it shows.
My generation will be the last generation to remember what childhood was like without the Internet. I remember what it was like to ride in the car with my parents before cell phones could interrupt a heart-to-heart. The Internet is an amazing tool, but what has been missing from this huge technological leap forward is the ethics and etiquette to maintain our humanity so that we can use the Internet to advance our knowledge, understanding and respect for one another, and not be continuously consumed by screens, status updates, and our e-mail inbox. We are setting a precedent during the early days of digital communication, and we cannot continue to ignore the cause and effect of spending so much time in front of a screen.
In addition to striking the necessary balance to have a healthy online/offline life, we have to address the fact that we’re communicating in an entirely new way now, and because we’ve been in the middle of evolving, there hasn’t been a standard set of rules for online etiquette, or “netiquette”. Just like real life etiquette, you don’t have to follow these guidelines. However, just because you are unaware of the impression you give off with bad netiquette, doesn’t mean you won’t be negatively affected by it. It is unlikely that you will get into any real trouble by making a habit of spitting and cursing. It might keep you from getting laid though. The same goes for your online behavior. Being ignorant to how your netiquette represents you, in the end, will only affect you. Poorly written emails can cost you a job. Staring at your phone all day could cost you a relationship. So long as you use the Internet, the way you adapt to the digital age will determine how well you communicate accurately with others. That’s all we’re trying to do, isn’t it? Say what we mean and be heard? There are effective and ineffective ways to do this online, and that’s what this column is all about.
Every week I will cover varying netiquette topics ranging from what not to do in a business e-mail, to what not to do at the dinner table. I invite you to share your questions, pet-peeves, and personal experiences by contacting me here, and together we can begin to expand our social expectations of one another, and go forth into the digital age with our manners in tow.
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