30 Things This Blog is About (#11: Etiquette)

Once upon a time, as cultural mythology goes, etiquette was rigidly defined and a crucial part of many different parts of society. As we’ve expanded and merged, these codified rules of behavior have become less and less strict, owing largely to the impossibility of enforcing them. We have a world in which there are too many groups with too many different codes of behavior to possibly have an overarching system for all of them.

Instead we have reorganized, as human beings are wont to do, into smaller groups. These groups, often digital “tribes”, each have their own codes of behavior and ethical standards. The effect of this is widespread, subtle, and curious. In a bygone age, a person would identify by their chosen group and largely adhere to that group’s standards for behavior– this concept was so well entrenched that quite a bit of popular fiction arose from the concept of someone somehow managing to pass themselves off as a class or member of a group unlike their own.

Now, stories like that seem quaint, as we are all members of many groups, and constantly shift and alter our behavior to meet the codes of etiquette for each group. Even this is not terribly new (last few hundred years or so)– what is new is the rise of technology, with it becomes much easier to track a person’s behavior in various situation. From celebrity scandals to public shaming to internet vigilantism, our society regularly exposes people who (gasp!) behave differently in different situations. Despite the fact that we all do this to some extent in our daily lives, we still cling to the idea of the single ideal persona, a relic of the past (if it can even be said that people adopted singular personas at any point in history).

We all wear masks, we have a collection of them, yet we fascinate ourselves by calling attention to the masks worn by others.

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