Digital Age Etiquette: Or, the Perils of Effortless Communication

Etiquette has a bad rap. We're used to think of it as something old and stuffy -- gestures embodying too much class snobbery and self-serving social hierarchy to be of much value in a pluralistic democratic society. Add technology to mixture and things get worse. Where one person sees bad netiquette, another sees a clash of generations: old ways of doing things colliding with new ones, with the cool kids having moved on.

But if we look carefully, we'll find a burgeoning movement that shows etiquette is what enables care to be contagious. When etiquette is threatened, social harmony erodes. Apathy and selfishness spread.

I'm sure each of you can attest to examples from your own lives where people have behaved disrespectfully. In addition to being turned off, perhaps you've been tempted to follow their rude lead. Maybe distracted friends who drop out of conversations for an Internet fueled, dopamine high? Or, family members who bypass thoughtful communication in the shortest way textable or tweetable? How about colleagues who ignore important personal correspondence, while endlessly updating social media with trivialities?

In this TEDx talk, I address the etiquette challenge and identify small, but effort-filled gestures that enhance the presence of care and conscientiousness in our lives. Humble, pro-social behavior that's potent enough to manifest the Golden Rule. Tiny things that make the social contract both visible and viable.

*Spoiler alert: If you're looking for a nostalgic stand against digital devices or a sermon that demonizes technology, skip this talk! If you watch it, you'll see that while I don't let my daughter internalize Silicon Valley logic and thoughtlessly text laconic thank-you notes, I encourage her to express gratitude by sending personalized, guitar-playing videos (possibly over the short, Vine format).

**Thanks to Tim Lebrecht for coming up with the subtitle to this post.