What Emily Post Can't Teach Us About 'Netiquette'

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True story: When I was in middle school, my mother sat my brother and me down at the dining room table to give us lessons from Emily Post's big blue bible called Etiquette. Fold your napkin when you leave the table. Start with the silverware on the outside and work your way in. A lot of those lessons still apply today. But you know what we don't need? Those century-old tropes being applied to how we live our digital lives.


Emily Post's great-great grandson Daniel Post Senning disagrees; just published a guide for online etiquette called Emily Post’s Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online. And it is... well, it's a little silly. From the introduction:

Photo sharing itself is a huge topic. The etiquette of tagging and posting raises questions about what's respectful, and whether to ask permission before posting.Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—I'll talk a look at the major sites and their manners and subcultures. Online gaming is one of the biggest internet communities around, with its own rules of engagement. Dating is fast on its heels, though, and we'll talk about the art of finding love online. Never far from anyone's mind (thanks to that smartphone!) is work. Navigating job interviews that might pull up your Facebook page right then and there and avoiding accidental Twitter overshares are just a few of the things that are part of what it means to assess and be smart about digital appropriateness in the workplace today.

A few questions come to mind after reading that. First, what is LinkedIn subculture? Is it like weird Twitter but for professionals? Second, is this how Martha Stewart will navigate Match.com?And if the line about that smartphone didn't kill you, let's get into Senning's know-how on a couple of familiar platforms for those who don't, well, know how:

On how to find something: Need to know something or how to do something? The Google search is a new norm for finding out anything instantly.

On tweeting: Be sure to engage in the back-and-forth of the Twitter conversation.


On friending someone on Facebook: In real life it can be impossible to ignore someone who is reaching out to you. Maybe this is why Facebook changed the option.

On emailing: As a general rule, don’t open e-mails that don’t have a subject line.


On leaving voicemails: Model the behavior you’d like to see in others. (Editor's note: please do not leave voicemails).

Senning's not necessarily wrong, and his advice isn't totally misguided. It just reads with a detachment that you'd expect from someone who doesn't really use the internet at all. You could easily imagine your grandmother sitting in front of a giant old desktop computer reading the book through a pair of horn-rimmed glasses on the tip of her nose, nodding sincerely.


We've had the internet long enough that interacting online is turning into a natural thing. Hey, most people don't even lie about online dating anymore. There's no a separate set of instructions for living a life on the internet and living a life outside of that. It's all the same: Be respectful. Be yourself. No punch-backs. If anyone should understand that, it's the people who wrote the book on etiquette in the first place.

Image credit: Shutterstock/Everett Collection



Nick R.

What's wrong with voicemails? I'd rather someone left me a 15 second voicemail with all the information I need than three texts that are likely more vague and responded to slower. Perhaps it's just me but order of importance for communication in my life is verbal, text and then email...then Facebook eventually. I just prefer the immediacy of a verbal interaction. I can get the info I want and understand the tone it was given in. It just seems a lot easier.