I’m quite fond of the word decorum. Unfortunately, it’s not widely used. You know this because you never hear anybody say it in line at the grocery store and because it’s one of those words you see on the GRE. On all of Google’s indexed anglophone Internet (or at least the part it deigned to show me yesterday), it appears only 3,780,000 times. About once for every 100 Americans. It would be nice if one out of a hundred exhibited a little decorum online.
(Tits, on the other hand, appears 62,900,000 times.)
Last year, somebody I know (a professional contact) announced to whoever might be listening on Facebook that she was “sad” because her friend [first name] had died suddenly. She went on to give enough details about the guy that I realized I knew him (met him once in a professional context, connected on Facebook). I put two and two together because he had posted an update on Facebook a couple of days earlier saying he had a 105° fever and was waiting for the doctor to arrive (they do urgent-care house calls in France). I was appalled to learn of his death from this source. This was simply not her information to share. And on fucking Facebook? Indecorous.
Twitter, couple days ago. Chick I follow because she followed me (professional contact, don’t know her IRL, never exchanged a word with her) announces that she just talked to her brother, and her grandmother’s not long for this world. I’m paraphrasing, she was not flippant, although she did end the update with the sad emoticon :-( the ultimate in eloquent expression of profound grief and totally appropriate, don’t you agree? Seriously. One, keep it to yourself; this is not the place. Two, the mundane babble on Twitter is bad enough as it is; how many people want to hear this kind of shit? We have problems of our own. Indecorous.
(Facebook’s disingenuous argument for doing such a crap job of protecting user privacy is that people don’t really care that much about their privacy. They’re confusing lack of decorum with lack of concern for privacy. A fallacious conclusion, in my opinion.)
The death of decorum irks me to no end, let me tell you. Whatever happened to not airing dirty laundry? Social media platforms sometimes seem like big ol’ piles of other people’s dirt. Who could crave such an environment? Vincent has the right idea. He only follows people on Twitter whose updates have substance. He doesn’t get dying relative announcements from total strangers. Or maybe it’s just that they’re mostly French people, who still do decorum.
Do you still get form letters in Christmas cards? I used to look forward to them all year. Joe’s cataracts, grampa’s kidney stones and, by the way, Merry Christmas. Cracked me up every time. At least it was only once a year and there weren’t that many. Then there was the guy who would wax poetic about moonbeams and go into rants about the stickers on pears. Weird, but a welcome relief from the hip replacements. I used to send form letters in Christmas cards too, but only with good news. The people who knew me well already knew about any hard stuff I was dealing with. That was as it should be, and more than enough.
But clearly it’s not enough for a lot of people. Were the concern and attentions of the sick guy’s wife so inadequate that he had to tell hundreds of strangers about his fever? What compelled him to do a Facebook update in the state he was in? Was it to get additional sympathy or attention from people who may not have mattered that much to him in the first place? Have these platforms done nothing more than free our inner three-year-olds to demand that someone, anyone pay attention to us at all times? My advice: give the inner brat a time out.
Our default state is alone: in a crowd, in a relationship, there is always a significant chunk of us that remains utterly alone. Too hard for people to accept, I guess, so they use social media to fool themselves into feeling not alone.
I may have been what some might consider indecorous myself a time or two on this blog. I may have been off-color. But if I was, it was because it felt appropriate in the context. A big part of the problem is the lack of context around these impulsive updates. Lack of forethought. Lack of consideration. Lack of actual friends who actually care? Lack of self-esteem? In addition to the lack of decorum. A whole lot of lacking going on.
Yet this form of expression is supposedly bringing about the death of the blog. But I doubt I’ll quit blogging till I stop having a big mouth, which will be when I’m dead or near dead or severely damaged, which you will probably hear about on Facebook or Twitter from somebody you never met who needs a lesson in decorum.