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March 05, 2009

Manners maketh (social) man

As the IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) publishes a code of behavioural advertising good practice to set a standard for companies that collect and use data for online, I wonder how much reputation and good manners may be becoming an important foundation for a new social age.

It’s interesting to note how and why highly mannered societies happen. The gentility of the Victorian era is one of the most obvious chapters where society thrived to a high degree on mannerism, and it’s maybe no co-incidence it occurred during the time of the industrial revolution.


Victorian manners
That was a time when the wealth that came out of industry and mechanised production created the surge of a new class in society. The industrial revolution gave birth to the middle classes that were enfranchised by an economic step change and capitalism was born.

Manners then were the almost indispensable glue that bound that society together. Manners created social cohesion in the face of change and new protocols became the means whereby a nascent social order was able to function, learn and grow in safety.

It’s often in the nature of highly affected societies that some kind of management imperative is at play. Who knows how basic exchanges of trade would have been able to be established, let alone happen at all, without the manners and values of that age.  Victorian manners were an exaggerated antidote, a calming restorative to help society cope with cataclysmic change.

Today we have a new social revolution underway and how we get our heads around it may similarly involve new values and protocols. As it unleashes a mass of twitterers, blogs, social networks and  facebook pages, how people connect and build preferred networks is potentially encouraging a similar need for convention.

When attention is hard to come by, earning and keeping it requires the creation of trust, and this favours some reliability in terms of online behaviour. Trust requires that tickets of entry and rites of passage are understood and observed.

Reputation too, stands and falls online as a result of whether one’s footprint is being well maintained. Blatant integrity and transparency rule within a socially capitalized environment, as does attentiveness and the kind of civil behaviours that mean a new common good can come into play.

In his excellent work around the creation of Constructive Capitalism, Umair Haque is one voice amongst several calling out for a recognition of new social values that can underpin the economic growth of this next age, and I agree.

The days of the youtube yob, those that make their mark on a social forum by invective and by calling out instead of by making a contribution, are numbered. We're rapidly having to learn how to connect, and connect well, in order to seed and make the most of the new opportunities within social networking we see as part of this tide of change. The bottom line is they require cultivation.

Though it may sound quaint to say this, for all sorts of hard-headed reasons, to make sense, meaning and profit out of the huge diaspora and degree of cultural development that moving to a socially connected existence online promises and entails, manners may be the making of us.

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"Manners created social cohesion"- so very true. I argue that without this, success is reduced and progress impeded. What's worse is that those who have very bad manners never see the roadblocks that they create for themselves, because they're so concerned with mouthing off at someone else's ideas. And so it goes...

"When attention is hard to come by, earning and keeping it requires the creation of trust"- Again, so true, online and off. This is the kind of mantra that I'll end up reciting in my mind almost daily, thanks for it!

Interesting, the thought that Victorian manners were a “calming restorative to help society cope with cataclysmic change.”

What fascinates me about manners in social media is that I have two seemingly conflicting thoughts in my head: 1.) For the first time in my life, I feel like someone has shown me a social rule book that I can follow. For the first time, I “get” it about helpfulness and kindness and graciousness, on a level I simply never had before. 2.) It’s all changing so fast, how can I possibly understand the rules?

But what’s so powerful, so cool, is that there are “social guidelines” for how to act in the space. And people, with their infinite wisdom and helpfulness and graciousness are willing to share those with me, guide me, forgive me when I make mistakes.

At the same time, everything is changing. So I get to *be a part* of the thinking about new guidelines, conventions and ways of thinking of the world. And so I get to immediately give back, by sharing those insights with anyone that needs them.

I feel like I am living in the best of times. And Dickens, I am going to stop right there.

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