When I first registered for Let's Discuss Digital Etiquette, I had anticipated quite a theoretical comparison of people's behaviour on- and offline, perhaps with a bit of handwringing about how anonymity feeds the trolls. What I experienced instead was an informative, interactive evening with some genuinely fresh, helpful advice, somewhere between a discussion and a training session.
As senior editor at technology magazine Wired, Victoria Turk is a real coup for Blackwell's, who maintain their reputation for enlisting expert speakers for insightful events. Far from any tired clichés about 'the youth of today', Turk's wealth of experience combined with thorough research made us talk, laugh and think.
Turk's book, Digital Etiquette, rather than an abstract consideration, is a practical guide on how to behave on the internet - an old-fashioned etiquette guide, updated for the digital age. We learned how the famous etiquette guide Debrett's dedicates just two pages to digital etiquette - the same amount of space that's dedicated to that pervasive issue of how to address a Bishop - which seems a huge oversight given how widespread digital communication has become. Turk's book is therefore a timely guide for the perplexed, arming readers with strategies for navigating the digital sphere while avoiding irritating others or becoming overly stressed oneself.
The audience, packed into the charmingly restored Gaffer's Room on the first floor of the bookshop, was a mixture of 'digital natives' like myself who thought they pretty much had digital communication sorted, and those for whom email and social media have become suddenly widespread and who might feel disorientated by the challenges of these new technologies. It is to Turk's credit that her talk remained relevant to both groups.
The book covers four realms in which digital etiquette is important: work, romance, friends and community, through the lens of areas like email and social media. The focus for this particular talk was work emails, chosen as the most familiar problem area. As someone who uses email every day, most of the time without thinking very hard about it, I found Turk's new insights refreshing and even revolutionary. I'm still not sure if I can bring myself to stop putting empty niceties at the start of my emails, but it was nice to be reassured that my email sign off ('Best Wishes') is the recommended one, and I will happily help spread the message about the golden rule of CCing: if someone is CCed in an email, they are not expected to respond but are receiving their message just for reference - pass it on! Leaving aside the more technical rules, the guiding principle regarding etiquette that we took away was to remember that by sending an email, you are inconveniencing someone, so you should make it as easy as possible to respond to.
If the style of the talk is anything to go by - filled with invaluable nuggets of advice, enlivened by observational humour, thought-provoking and backed up by research - then Digital Etiquette is surely a must-read. The Q&A session at the end was a signature of Blackwell's events - a proper back and forth that incorporated everyone and continued well past the planned finishing time. I left with a copy of the book and a head full of plans and ideas.