Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Etiquette of Facebook

We hear a lot about people messing around on Facebook: teenage parties that end up with 300 guests, teachers who are Friends with their pupils, and people who are not what they claim to be. But we hear very little about good Facebook behaviour. Those of us who strive to be a nicer, more conscientious Friend on Facebook than we might be in real life. Responding to each communication made on our wall quickly and with wit, scouring the internet, newspapers and sometimes even real life for the most delicate of titbits to share. Remembering birthdays for heaven sake! We are going out of our way to project an idealised version of ourself.

And it struck me that Facebook is nothing new at all, its ways are infused with the manner of the 18th century, the Enlightenment Age, when the epistolary form was king. We are all acquiring the taste and discernment of Georgians and the court of Versailles...

Facebook users are drawn to their own society and somehow this is seen as better and certainly more refined than the everyday world; in fact, sometimes furiously texting that we are outsiders or visitors to the actual world as we analyse what is occurring in it on Facebook in real time. Like a progress through a series of Robert Adam rooms, we are allowed access to greater and greater levels of intimacy with other Facebook users depending on our status. Most activity between Friends takes place as it were in the outer room where the regular visitor might be received but if we show wit in our conversations, and fitness, we can be drawn further into the house of Adam through the library, the drawing room and perhaps even to the boudoir.

But there is nothing very sexy about this Facebook society all governed by manners. In Georgian boudoirs the most you might get is the voyeur's lot (and insight) of watching another dress, the intimate self being replaced by the social one. And don't be sure of your place in it, be over-intimate, or you will tumble back down and out onto the street. Your house, or at least its wall, a ghostly mansion; while the cards you leave in the virtual hands of other hosts and hostesses are ignored (and occasionally spat back in your face).

And what has this to do with poetry? Well, in Georgian England for example it was possible to reach the very top of society by dressing well, being good with a phaeton and above all articulate. Beau Brummel being a case in point. Our bon mots on the Facebook wall are epigrams that show the range of our characters, our intellectualism, our worth; our conversations by wall mail, like the open correspondences of the epistolary form popular in the 18th century, are meant to be read and chewed over in the salon.

Facebook gives us the illusion of time and discernment, a better society that we must strive to be accepted into. No wonder it is so seductive. With a little polish, we can all be Swift, Dryden or Pope; with a little luck,  maybe even Shelley, Scott or Byron.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for being good on Facebook. I am too. Please join my groups, like my page, and continue to practice good netiquette if you would like to read more about being good online. I call it netiquette. NetworkEtiquette.net