If you were writing ‘Advice for the Modern Age…’

October 6, 2011 | By | Comments (1)
….how much of Chapter 1 would you devote to Facebook? Would you include a list of Do’s and Don’ts for tweeters to follow?
Don’t worry about sounding like the manners police. Busy bodies have been offering etiquette advice since at least the Victorian Age, with stuffy books like “Our Deportment of the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society” (published in 1882). For decades, the bossier classics—and here I am thinking of books like Emily Post’s “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home,” published in 1922 —  didn’t need a wholesale overhaul. Even today many of Mrs. Post’s observations remain timeless (“New York’s bad manners are often condemned and often very deservedly,” the Upper East Side society matron noted.)

Other things changed, however. Technology has transformed the world since the 1920s; we face social dilemmas that the old guides didn’t see coming. (Has anyone out there had your Twitter account hacked yet this morning?)

New versions of old books aren’t the answer; trying to splice the modern world onto an antique sensibility usually doesn’t work. “Attempts to tweak favorites are fraught with peril,” book reviewer Dwight Garner wrote this week in the New York Times, after reading new versions of both Post’s guide and Dale Carnegie’s 75-year-old  “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

So. Imagine that you are starting from scratch, sitting down with pen and paper at your computer to give advice about how to gracefully navigate the 21st century. What questions would you answer? My list includes:

1. Annoying email? It’s OK not to reply.
2. Thank you notes?  Sending email instead of paper saves trees.
3. Tweeting? No one wants to know the 140-character version of what I ate for breakfast.
4. Cellphone dependence? If your attention span is too short to sustain a face-to-face conversation with a human without glancing down at your screen, see a doctor.

What’s on your list?

(image via RealSimple.com)