There’s nothing particularly new about boorish behavior, but it sometimes seems that contemporary society’s emphasis on individuality and the diminished significance placed on formality have opened the door to encouraging more boorish behavior.
There may be a tendency to think of etiquette as a trite pursuit (e.g. should the salad fork be placed to the left of the shrimp fork or left of the table fork? Oh dear, which is it?!), but some maintain manners are the bedrock of a civil society. The notion that certain proper forms of behavior should be engaged in is interesting from a sociological perspective: who determines what is ‘proper’, that is, under what authority is any social convention adopted? Do you peruse a Ms. Manners or Emily Post book when confronted with questions concerning etiquette?
It’s usually presumed that all formalized behaviors are premised on a general wish to extend consideration or good-will towards others, but there’s more going on than that. Frequently these codified behaviors are veiled ways of reinforcing social orders/world views. Take for instance the act of a man opening a door for a woman; on the surface it would appear the act of opening a door is a straightforward example of the aforementioned goodwill/consideration. The fact that it falls along gender lines complicates matters, though. The unspoken premise here is that women are assumed to be the weaker gender and therefore require males to open doors for them. In point of fact, it’s extremely doubtful that any man doing so would intend this (and none but the most militant feminist is likely to take offense), but the pedigree of this particular convention can be readily traced to the medieval codes of courtly behavior where this worldview existed in spades.
I also do not intend to suggest that simply because a proscribed action falls along gender lines it is inherently wrong either. Walking a woman out to their car at night, for example, has a pragmatic basis – a male (statistically speaking) is more likely to possess greater upper body strength and more likely to be able to fend off or deter a would-be attacker (who, again, is statistically speaking, probably male too).
Our technology appears to be outpacing our social responses and it seems we’re lacking universally-held conventions of behavior where certain electronic devices are concerned; cell phones, email, tweeting, and texting come readily to mind.
Are there any etiquettes surrounding electronic devices that you’d like to see universally adopted (e.g. don’t talk on your cell phone in the supermarket line…unless you’re me and you forgot to get something)? Are there any etiquettes you wouldn’t mind seeing going the way of whale bone corsets? Where do you think a lack of manners is most evident today in our society?