Technology is everywhere but our acceptance of that ubiquity has costs, to our health, wellbeing, stress and the quality of our conversations. Do we need to spend every minute glued to a screen, barking down the line or listening to tinny gibberish on a phone speaker? It’s time we all sought a better balance. With this in mind, we’ve created a manifesto for a more dignified relationship with all things digital, from occasionally leaving our devices behind to being a little kinder and more cautious online. So pop your phone on silent, take out those earbuds, ignore those emails and read on for some ideas about firming up the online social contract.
Just because you have an opinion (about the news, your neighbour’s haircut or the warranty of the lawnmower you just bought), it doesn’t mean you should broadcast it to the world. So much of what’s smeared online to shame people and companies could be as easily solved with a friendly note, a jot of patience or a deep breath and a tap on the delete key.
So you’re having your say – great. But did the person that you’re pursuing or decrying deserve the condemnation? Are they the problem or someone who can solve it? Would you have been so thoroughly and unsparingly rude in person? What if the person you’re haranguing knew your name and was standing in front of you? The anonymity of the internet tends to make interactions harsher at a moment in history when a little give and take is much more useful.
OK, so whoever you were taking a pop at did deserve it after all. But will pursuing a point publicly prove much? Do you feel better? Remember that it’s a human on the receiving end of your indignation: often a college-fresh social media manager, a naïve young girl or boy, or just someone doing their best to wade through the bilge and ire of below-the-belt comments and trolling. Think twice and give people the benefit of the doubt.
Those white lies once reserved for cvs or after a third glass of wine have seeped onto websites, posts and online proclamations. Maybe you are a Productivity Jedi or an Online Experience Gatherer – and here’s a photo of you swimming in a friend’s pool necking free champagne... Social media has inflated our sense of self but it’s possible that the world isn’t all that impressed.
Secrecy is all too scarce a resource. Today, despite what most people tell you, you’re a person not a brand. Get a good night’s sleep and switch off now and again. No one wants to see too much – of you, your home, those dark unexcavated, barely formed opinions that you’re blurting out at the same time as you’re committing them to the public record. Keep a little mystery, have a little dignity, maintain some allure.
Emails are oddly ambiguous ways to communicatee and passive-aggressive behaviour is quickly amplified if you don’t check yourself. Take special pains to be clear and pleasant. No excuses, no-one’s too busy for manners and a little decency can go a long way – we’d all feel less stressed if the people on the other end of the keyboard were more positive, polite and kind.
Fewer emails will make everyone happier. Everyone’s busy – even more so as our work pursues us into our homes and leisure time. When it comes to work, we all need to think more carefully and ask, “Does that last missive need sending?” The office might be paperless but it hasn’t gone away; it has morphed into vast energy-intensive servers packed with useless data, nowhere emails and round-robins that were never opened. Be sparing.
You’re talking through a phone not to one. It’s too easy to forget the human at the other end. Instant messaging is excellent for efficiency but it takes more than a phone in every pocket to overcome our hardwired human (and hard-to-emulate-online) sense of trust and camaraderie. Don’t cut and paste a response; say something and mean it. Also, marketeers and mass emailers, there’s nothing less flattering than an automated reply or, worse, a cookie-cutter response with the wrong name at the top.
Not everyone wants to be in your home movie, your advert, your brand launch, your family video-call quiz, your panoramic phone shot or your selfie. Spare a thought for the passerby who didn’t consent to star in your self-made, one-person psychodrama. Take pictures and capture the important moments, by all means – but leave others out of it unless they have agreed to participate.
The internet doesn’t do nuance but you can. Algorithms guide us to people who agree with us and our echo chambers become ever more entrenched to the point of polarity: we don’t recognise the people we disagree with or the common ground we share. That’s dangerous – and it’s up to us to solve it. You might not get a full concession to your opinions. The important thing is how you conduct yourself – and when you decide to walk away.