In 2013, can you imagine if people were to suddenly call for etiquette training in our schools? I’m not talking about all the ‘top 10 ways to act on twitter’ tropes out there. I’m saying: what if we were to develop a curriculum for dinner table manners, or shoe removal tendencies, or Times When You Should Hold The Door Open For Someone?
I know, in your head you’re secretly thinking, “Actually, that’s a fantastic idea! Kids today…”
But you’d probably also concede that there may be bigger, less… problematic fish to fry inside our education machine. And that, if you were to make such a workshop proposal for your next education conference, it might not get accepted.
So, why, then, are we so obsessed with teaching social media etiquette? What does it even mean? According to whose standards? Based on which culture?
If it would be ridiculous to suggest that there is one proper way to eat a meal, then why do we seek one standard etiquette for social media speak? If we cannot feel confident telling all students to bow to their elders in a heterogenous culture, then why the one rule for an RT?
There are so many complex variables in teaching or integrating social media into education environments. Not the least of these include privacy concerns, pedagogical dilemmas, and technological considerations. It befuddles me, then, that we should spend so much time wringing our hands about what I observe as a comparatively less pressing issue, so-called social media etiquette. Furthermore, I’ve been wondering whether I’m the only person out there who is flummoxed when such a thing is presented as a type of literacy. Are etiquette and manners literacies? Well, perhaps they are literacies if you also want to call being a wine aficionado a brand of literacy, or suggest that I am highly literate in the social norms of a BBQ Ribfest. But perhaps a more accurate descriptor for this would be cultural capital. And, yes, it can be learnt and taught, but must we?
Do we really want:
- A fixed, homogenous notion of what is appropriate?
- To teach students how we think they should dialogue in these ever evolving spaces?
- Everyone to tweet or Instagram or Plus (see Google, you can’t use it as a verb!) like they’re answering stock questions at a job interview?
- Reluctant, self-conscious users to avoid posting because they can’t bear breaking ‘netiquette’, feeling like every utterance will be scrutinized with a proverbial teacher’s red pen?
Do we need social media spaces full of good manners, or do we want savvy, authentic, critical thinkers who constantly reshape, rethink, and redirect its purpose?