Digital Etiquette

WiFi manners

A very valid question is posed above.  When it comes to insights I often default to this one:  “When you go home to your mothers house, do you ever walk into the kitchen, open the fridge and have a good look at what is in there?”

It is amazing how this simple insight makes people smile, most recognise the behaviour as something they do.  It would be an incredibly rude thing to do with a friend or colleage, but we all do it when we go home to visit Mom, or as we Dubliners call her “de Ma”.  The fridge is a symbol for a whole raft of emotions around security, contentment, care and love.  A packed fridge is a welcome home, mothers bounty, always there in case of need.  It is a visual symbol of a mothers love for her children.

My own mother is old and putting it kindly one might say she is a little forgetful these days.  Now when I open the fridge it is to ensure that she is being cared for.  That is sad.  It makes the house a cold and clinical place to know we can’t just turn up and root out a lunch from the contents.

Food etiquette is central to how we interact with others.  Toilet etiquette is not far behind.  You don’t arrive into a persons house and just march straight to the bathroom, unless you are in a very bad state.  Excusing yourself to the bathroom entails a complex code of doubletalk, innuendo and social manners.

Sasha Baron Cohen, in the character of Borat, uses our ‘delicacy’ around bathroom issues as a source of comedy, as in this video, about 3.30 in:

Bathroom etiquette requires that we mask our purpose,  We talk of bathrooms and toilets, which were originally places for washing.  We should be asking for the W.C. and indeed this is considered to be polite in upper class English circles. The Queen uses a WC. Other, lesser people, refer to the Loo, the Ladies, the Gents, the little girls/boys room, the Facilities, the Washroom, John, Khazi, Dunny and so on.

Now we have the thorny issue of WiFi to worry about.   As a good host are you expected to give up your access code?  As a guest is it polite to ask for it?  Are you going to spend the dinner party gazing into your smart phone?  When is it proper for a host to ask you to leave the phone in a box for the evening?  If your host asks you to put your phone away should you be mortified and apologetic, or is it OK to tell them to go to hell because they are just Luddites?

Table manners for food and toilets are established and are a still a social minefield.  Phone and WiFi manners are still in flux and are constantly evolving.  One thing is very sure, lots of people are using their time in the bathroom to check up on their live feed!  I just hope they wash their hands first.

Digital Legacy

Last will and testament document

A good, if slightly macabre topic, for Halloween.  How will you handle your digital legacy?

Because the Internet is relatively new, and the population who engage on the web are relatively young, few of us have yet encountered the stress of cleaning up a digital legacy post-mortem.  When you die what will happen to your digital accounts?  How will they be closed down?  What messages will relatives and friends receive to inform them that you have passed away?

This is a very real issue.  I have encountered friends who buried parents, distributed the estate and began to return to a semblance of normality, only to be informed on an online site that a birthday was approaching and they might want to purchase a gift.  The grieving process can be set back months.

When you prepare your will you should document every email and internet account you have.  Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, think of all the social media sites you are a member of.  Then think of all your email accounts.  What do you want to do with them when you die?  This should be part of your instructions to the executor of your will.

For instance, I don’t want my Facebook account shut down until my family have a chance to copy all the photos I have stored in there.  My family may not want to close it down at all.  I don’t really want my wordpress site closed.  I see it as something that can remain after I depart.  But I may want to close it off with a final post, a post-mortem epitaph.

Solicitors & Lawyers need to update their procedures to take account of these kinds of instructions.  As things stand many solicitors don’t have a brilliant grasp of what is involved.  I can see a role for specialist lawyers who understand the digital world, and who know how it can be navigated in a sensitive manner.

When someone passes away there should be an option on Facebook/Amazon/Tripadvisor etc to move the account to a setting that indicates that this person has passed away.  This should turn birthday reminders into something more appropriate and perhaps capture the anniversary of the passing of the deceased.

The digital footprint of a person has the power to succeed them.  Let’s say that I campaign for a charity, maybe Cancer Research.  After I die I have the power to continue to influence charitable giving when an anniversary occurs.  My family and friends may value this opportunity to make a difference as a form of remembrance.  For non religious people a charitable contribution can often take the place of a prayer or a mass as a form of remembrance.

Websites and online accounts have the potential to become shrines to the memory of people. What digital legacy do you want to leave when you depart this world?

Happy Halloween!


Crossing the bar; Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep

Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Needs & Wants


The meme above is doing the rounds in schools at the moment, which shows Maslow’s hierarchy of needs with an extra box drawn on the bottom.  The text in the box says “Internet” or “Wi-fi”.   Teenagers identify with a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that places Internet access at the very base of the triangle.  Kids who have never seen a day without sustenance and shelter actually think that wi-fi access is more important than food.

It neatly introduces the subject of needs and wants.  I grew up in the age before the internet, before the mobile phone.  I grew up in a household with seven kids and three adults.  Don’t get me wrong, I never went hungry for a day.  But when I was a kid a treat was just that, a treat.  There was no magic cupboard constantly refilled with popcorn or sweets or chocolate bars.  A jar of jam was not a staple.  There was NOT a constant supply of fresh fruit.  Even dried fruit was in short supply, purchased for the purpose of making cake, and any spares were quickly nibbled away by deft young fingers.

Shop-bought biscuits were very much a treat.  Deserts were home-made.  There were far more deserts available when free produce came into season.  Rhubarb in spring, cooking apples in the autumn, stewed and served with custard, made into tarts or sponges, baked stuffed apples.  We had a vested interest in picking blackberries, because they translated into tarts and crumbles.

If we were hungry between set meals there was always (within reason) bread and butter, milk and tea.  Nobody starved.  We knew the difference between Need and Want.

When I was teaching marketing in college the earthquake hit Haiti.  When we looked at Maslow I told the students to imagine the following situation.  There is a Haitian doctor, a pillar of the community, living in a fine house with his family.  One day he is mulling over a decision to replace his car.  Does he want something more racy and sporty, or something more conservative to reflect his status in the community?  His wife is tired of the curtains in the living room and is idly flicking through a catalogue for ideas.  His daughter is moaning that her mobile phone is so last year and all her friends have better ones.

The earthquake hits.  They run into the street as their house collapses around them.  The house falls on the car and destroys it.  They are left standing in the street, in the rain, wearing the clothes on their back.

The mobile phone no longer works because the network has been destroyed.  They have no cash in hand (if anyone would take it) and the bank machines will not work because the electricity is gone.

They have dropped from Self-Actualisation all the way down to Physiological needs.  The way Maslow works you need to satisfy base needs before you can move up to the next level.  The four bottom rungs of the triangle are all Needs.  Only Self-Actualisation is actually about Wants.

It has been said that any society is only three meals away from anarchy (I can’t get an original quote on this).  It is a valid contention.  Strip away the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy and society cannot stand.

Our Haitian family have moved from decisions about curtains, phones and cars to a point where they would be happy with a sheet of plastic to keep the rain off, and a mug of soup to fill their stomach.

The next time you can’t get a wi-fi signal or you lose your mobile phone, remember, though it may seem so, it is really not the end of the world.

Any problem that can be fixed with money is never as bad as it seems at the time.  You may not have the money to fix it, but someone does, and you can find them if you look hard.  As long as nobody was killed or seriously injured our Haitian family can start to ascend the triangle until they get back to self-actualisation.

Desire; by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame;

It is the reflex of our earthly frame,

That takes its meaning from the nobler part,

And but translates the language of the heart.