Walking the Social Tightrope

For manners-conscious folks like writer Audrey McDonald Atkins, the World Wide Web is a perplexing place.

Illustration of a girl looking at her cell phone

Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins

I remember Granny Mac coming home from the Eastern Star and saying, “I saw that Minnie Lee, and she didn’t say hello, kiss my foot, ner nuthin’!” Snubbed she was, snubbed! The social protocol had not been followed. She had not been acknowledged. 

It was easy then to identify when one had been given the brush-off. Social etiquette was clear — in part because there were vastly fewer considerations when tiptoeing one’s way through societal folkways and mores and also because the rules were plain. You spoke politely to your friends and acquaintances. You wrote your notes. You brought an appropriate covered dish or small gift. It was easy. 

Nowadays the social guidelines are fuzzy at best and downright obscure at worst. There are an infinite number of things to consider. 

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Is it appropriate to send a thank you email? A thank you tweet? Maybe just a “TY” and a smiley face? Do I follow with a written note? What if I just add a few more exclamation points? It’s so tiresome to have to find a stamp. 

What if your tweet or post is not replied to? Do your friends suddenly hate you? Are they ignoring you? Was it what they had for lunch? Am I obliged to comment on everything? What if I never comment? Then I’ll be out of the feed/loop/know. Is that really all that bad? 

Why was Betty’s friend request accepted and not mine? Really now … Betty? What’s wrong with me? It was probably just a glitch in the system. Maybe she meant to click on my friend/follow request and hit Betty’s by accident. Who would want to be friends with Betty anyway? Her macaroni and cheese comes out of a box. Tramp. 

On the proverbial flip side, am I obligated to be “friends” with more people than just my real, live, honest-to-goodness friends? Is my boss my friend? Do I really want my boss to know all about my girl’s weekend in Destin? Or how about the creepy guy from high school/the mail room/the corner store? I don’t want to be his friend, but I don’t really want to make him mad either. 

Then there are the pictures. There’s the party I wasn’t invited to but all my friends were or, conversely, I got to go to, but they didn’t! Even if I don’t post pictures, what if someone else does? Do you even always know when your picture is being taken? And why in the world did Emogene post that shot of me where I was all shiny? My God, what is she trying to do to me? I didn’t post the one of her where her bra strap was hanging out … just wait, Emogene. 

And whilst I am sure none of my dear readers are given to philandering, don’t dare be somewhere you’re not supposed to be with someone you’re not supposed to be with! You don’t have to be a celebrity nowadays to find your collective mug on the worldwide web in flagrante delicto

Births, deaths, marriage, divorce, adoption, cohabitation, breakup — happy news, sad news, no news … it’s all out there. But do you really want to find out about the death of a relative or a friend’s divorce right after reading the daily lunch specials posted by the taco truck? What if your boyfriend suddenly changes his status to “it’s complicated” when you thought you were fixing to change yours to “engaged”?

And who knew my cousin’s brother-in-law’s stepdad’s girlfriend was the leader of Republicans for Wicca? My aunt took up belly dancing? My great-uncle collects dolls? Was that who I think it was on that float dressed like Carmen Miranda? Should I make a mention? Ignore it? Can’t wait for Thanksgiving this year!

It really is all too much for the manners-conscious to bear. The slights! The provocations! The ramifications! Where does it all end? 

Best to remember the old adage: If you can’t say something nice, stay off the internet and come sit by me.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.

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