Common sense first, mobile phone later….
Unlike most social etiquette that we learn from a very young age, we do not subscribe to a social media etiquette for lack of a prescribed one. Across generations, misbehavior in the online and social media space is becoming rampant, but hardly discussed. The changes in attitude, perception, and reactions of people are scorned at or mostly ridiculed, as we do not have a syllabus that tells us to be sensible, sensitive, and aware in the social media space, other than one’s own common sense and experience.
Why have we become so insensitive and less personalized in our everyday communication? Why have we become so dependent on forwards to push past our days? Why is the older generation increasingly getting addicted to social media?
Pretty quickly after the advent of social media, communication between people and between groups became faster and faceless; it also became heavily dependent on forwarded messages. Forwards that are never fully read, hardly fully understood, and rarely diligently interpreted. Forwards have become a way of life so much so that our thinking is largely based on memes, trolls, and irresponsible forwards that occupy a major chunk of our daily routines.
Many of us wake up to the innumerous good morning messages personally sent by people or sent on the groups we are part of. Those that are sent by people who perhaps have their mornings to themselves to leisurely start their day not having to schedule their chores or time.
The receivers do not even have the time or inclination to read or open these routine wishes as they fail to add value, emotion, or personalization to their lives, irrespective of the sender. Yet, this does not discourage people who have made this a habit to send these messages each day without fail. What gratification do they draw from this exercise of spamming a person’s WhatsApp or FB inboxes? And this often leads to the receiver missing out on relevant or important messages amidst this plethora of forwards.
The sudden introduction of social media to the older people during their early and late fifties enthused them to want to know about the lives of others, as much as they wanted to update them about their own. While they were trying to get a grip of the nuances of social media etiquette, many became blind to the do’s and don’ts of the digital space. This could be WhatsApp messages, Facebook dashboards, Instagram pages, and the many apps that people deemed fit for use in the countries they live in.
In this over enthusiasm to share information, they become less aware of what needs to be held private and what could be made public. This sudden giveaway of personal and private information by a family member, many times, causes embarrassment to the second and third generation in the household. They find it difficult to express their displeasure in ways that the older generation understands, which at times leads to unpleasant scenes in a house.
As much as we educate kids on what can be made public and what to be held private, it has become important to educate the older generation in the household too on how to use social media diligently.
The intolerance that we see among people across all generations has its links to how they behave online. We see heated arguments between people of different ideologies and beliefs online that have begun to affect families, as many express their feelings online, which they may avoid in person. This was not that common before the advent of social media.
Arguments between people used to be settled face to face and were easier to handle then; the after taste did not linger in for long. Now with the advent of so many communication apps, the animosity between people seems to increase and stay longer.
While studying and researching social media behaviour, we come to know of a pattern in communication and how the grudge and disconnect starts among people who could be friends, family, acquaintances, partners, lovers, siblings, or offspring.
As silly as it may sound, these are aspects one needs to reflect on.
For example, some of the statements used as a blame or complaint by people of all generations and that lead to misunderstanding are:
You liked the other person’s post but ignored mine.
You have time to respond to the other person's photo or post but deliberately ignore mine.
You forward all the news and information to certain people, but I am never informed.
You posted a picture with a particular person, but never posted one with me.
You used so many love emojis on that person's post but had a heartless emoji or face on mine.
You are seen online but you seem to ignore my messages.
You were tagged with a person I don’t like.
The list is endless and sometimes lame too. Such remarks have even become reasons for many relationships to break or for people to get into tussles, which could have been avoided if they acted in informed and mature ways.
If one does not learn the ways and means to be social media sensitive and aware, the emotional damage and relationship breakdowns would only rise in number. Majority of people when online, do not know what and where to comment or post and seem to let themselves loose commenting on every post making it repelling for the account users.
Overdose of emojis at inappropriate contexts or with strangers, misplaced emojis, especially with people you are not too familiar with, makes the sender look silly and uninformed. The inability to keep themselves away from commenting or reacting in this manner is also behaviour that needs to be addressed.
That said, the social and political repercussions of the inability to differentiate the informed from the misinformed (also, those who want to misinform), and the genuine from the fake are alarming. The misogynist, the sexist, the transphobic, the racist, the casteist are hardly called out.
This virtual space and the anonymity in communication gives people the courage and bravado to post or comment whatever they choose to, which otherwise they would refrain from, had it been face-to-face communication. This has led a large segment of people to be rude, aggressive, and often demeaning in their ways and language on social media.
While resorting to social media and mobile usage, if one adheres to the basic manners, we can have healthy conversations and bonds at home, with friends and in public too. Small steps can make a vast difference.
Reduce the volume of the ringtone of your mobile while in public. Reduce your voice while talking in public to not inconvenience people around.
While watching videos or making video calls while in a public space, practice using earphones. Before forwarding a forward or a message, ask yourself if it is necessary. If you’re not too familiar with a person who you know is not too keen on using emojis, show some restraint.
Before sharing personal information in a group, ask yourselves whether a member in the group can get offended or if anyone can use it against you later.
Before sending messages that mock someone, ask yourself how you would feel if you were in their position.
Check the time before you send a message or initiate a call, especially if the other person lives in a different time zone. Just because communication methods are available 24/7, it does not give anyone the right to disturb a person during odd hours. Any message, unless it is an emergency, can wait. Cases of people provoking others with their late-night messages are on the rise.
If a number is busy, wait for the other person to finish the call and call you back. Do not keep calling that person and put them in a difficult and irritable position. If a person does not answer the call, respect that. They might be busy, or may not have the phone with them, or may not simply be in a mental or physical space to answer the call. Give them time to respond. Common Sense seems to be a dying element in people when it comes to mobile phone usage.
I have often come across people making loud video calls during train travels sharing every minute details of their personal life. We also see people play videos, movies or songs in public places without using earphones causing much disdain to people. Such insensitivity has become common at weddings, in malls and cinemas, during bus journeys, at airports, and at funerals too. People often seem to be lost in their gadget world having no concern or empathy for people around.
Next time you want to show off your mobile usage skills, use your common sense first and your phone only next.
(The author is an educationist and founder of Zocio, an organisation working extensively in the social emotional learning space. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)