Can we learn social etiquette from 1908? Tricky. Read on…
I took some flak last week online from a long-time online friend for sending her a LinkedIn invitation-to-connect, unhealthy but without (gasp) adding a personal message. Now, buy information pills I was catching up on a bunch of LinkedIn stuff and realized there were dozens of friends and colleagues I wanted to invite. Also, I’ve been using the standard “Dennis Van Staalduinen would like to connect with you” template for years without thinking about it, and never stopped to think how impersonal that might be.
But her reaction got me thinking of Social Etiquette in general and how the online world and the “norms” of the offline and online worlds get a bit muddled up. And how, without a manual, it’s easy to cross lines and offend people without realizing it.
Which brings me to the manual – and yes there really is one. Or should I say “was”? Below, I stitched together a few iPhone / Instagram shots I took from a delightful old book I have in my office from 1908 called the New American Encyclopedia of Social and Commercial Information.
As you can see, things change a lot. But do they really change that much?
The book – which is awesome – was an ambitious project purporting to teach upstart Americans all kinds of “useful” European skills like how to play the violin, dance, speak German and French, and play polo, among other self-improvement pursuits. How about a magic trick where you pull a cannon ball from a hat? It’s in there!
The section on Letters of Introduction is to the right. What do you think? Could that serve as an etiquette manual for introductions on LinkedIn? I’m not sure, it’s pretty heavy. But it certainly sounds like what my friend was trying to tell me about my lapse in social judgement.
But a few things have changed: 1) the tone of snooty confidence, 2) the idea that all things on earth can be contained in one volume (who needs Google?), and 3) the classic old illustrations – including one of an early form of “planking” (see above).
If you’re interested, I can post some more nuggets. Or if you’re really eager, you can find the whole book in PDF form here. (Warning: it’s HUGE.) Particularly interesting are sections on “Health for women” (spoiler: not very progressive), “The automobile” (debates whether steam, electric or gasoline will prevail), and the dancing section (check out the Polka instructions which are just hilarious).