• Vt. expert shares ‘Manners in a Digital World’
     | July 21,2013
    Emily Post Institute Photo

    Etiquette expert Emily Post appreciated technology — she so fancied her first-generation Dictaphone, she named it Suzy.

    When Emily Post published her book “Etiquette” in 1922, she advised readers looking for love to remember what she considered most essential for a budding relationship: a chaperone.

    “To see two or three apparently young people going into a bachelor’s quarters would be open to criticism,” she warned.

    So what would the manners maven think of her great-great-grandson releasing his own guide that explains how someone can cut out the middleman and connect with help from a computer?

    “Dating sites have different ways to find people who share your interests,” he writes, “so it’s OK to set up a profile on more than one site.”

    Daniel Post Senning, author of the new ebook “Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online,” isn’t trying to spark controversy. Instead, the Vermonter is plugging into technology to continue a five-generation family tradition of promoting courteous human connection.

    After Emily Post penned her first bestseller, the former Gilded Age debutante turned 20th-century etiquette expert counseled the masses through national radio (she had one in every room) and a syndicated newspaper column featuring thoughts captured through her newly invented Dictaphone (she so fancied the gadget, she named it Suzy).

    Today descendants who staff the Emily Post Institute’s headquarters in Burlington work with smartphones, tablets and social media including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube. The more things change, however, the more they stay the same.

    “While the digital world has opened new ways to socialize and new ways to expand a social circle, the interaction is as old as two people getting together to talk about the best way to start a fire from two sticks and some leaves,” Senning writes. “Ultimately, we are talking about traditional social norms — being friendly, thoughtful, considerate, sincere, respectful — and how we carry those with us when we enter the world of social media and mobile devices.”

    Senning is a skilled navigator between the two spheres. The 36-year-old lives without cellphone reception in a cabin in Huntington, population 1,938. Yet as the Institute’s manager of Web development and online content, he has built www.emilypost.com into a site that hosts more than 150,000 users a month.

    Senning knows how to tap technology to alert appointments when unexpectedly detained. Even more politely, he understands when to turn it off.

    “Even if you really could multitask brilliantly, the impression you give to the people you’re with is that you aren’t paying attention to them,” he writes. “If I could tell you only one thing about mobile manners, it would be this: focus on the person or people you are with rather than the tantalizing device in your pocket.”

    But since the Institute’s first book released in both paperback and electronic editions has 250 pages, Senning can elaborate.

    “Technology isn’t the problem; people are,” he writes. “Mobile manners should be introduced as early as age 2, and taught along with other essential etiquette such as table manners, introductions and greetings, and the importance of please and thank you.”

    For adults, Senning offers entire chapters on Facebook (“Even though it sounds rude, it is OK to ignore a friend request — it is also OK to unfriend someone”) and Twitter (“Don’t tweet everything, all the time, for no reason — too many tweets can become a type of spam”).

    He advises on computer gaming (“A good rule of thumb is to leave the game in your pocket anywhere you shouldn’t be texting or taking a phone call”) and dating (“Go ahead, you know you want to: Google them first”).

    He addresses online commenting, both on what to post (“Ask yourself: ‘Would I do or say this at the dinner table?’”) and how to respond to others (“The best policy for dealing with troll behavior is to ignore it — trolls are usually looking for some kind of reaction or attention and are less likely to continue the behavior the less response they get”).

    Senning has taught etiquette to everyone from hospitality workers in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai to National Football League draftees on ESPN. His study of Internet inquiries to the Institute shows users are most curious about the same subjects addressed by his great-great-grandmother: birth, marriage, death and work.

    “It’s comforting to see how the principles of etiquette — honesty, respect and consideration — remain the same,” Senning says in an interview.

    Alas, technology changes constantly — so much so the author’s already planning to rebuild his website and revise his book. But his college degree in molecular biology notwithstanding, he reassures that the underlying work isn’t rocket science. Instead, it’s more about simple common sense.

    “The whole purpose behind social media and smart, new mobile devices is to connect us to the people we are — or want to be — in relationships with,” he says. “No matter the device or network in question, it is the human relationships behind it that should ultimately be served by communication tools, both new and old.”

    So feel free to log onto Facebook, Senning concludes — as long as you also log time face to face.

    “The best way to improve the manners of the entire world is to model the behavior that you would like to see in others. Thinking about how my actions will affect relationships can be employed again and again to decipher what the best digital manner is for any situation that could arise, now or in a 3.0 world.”




    ‘The fundamental rules’

    “Rapidly developing technologies and new ways of communicating can challenge long-established social norms — such as not interrupting a meeting or bugging your fellow diners. However, the fundamental rules that guide all good social interactions still apply no matter what medium connects two people: Treat others with respect. Think about how your actions will affect the people around you. Be considerate of the feelings of those you interact with. Whether it is a blog or a smartphone, the degree to which new media help us build and sustain our relationships depends entirely on how well we use it.”

    — From Daniel Post Senning’s “Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online,” available from Open Road Integrated Media to buy or order at most bookstores.

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