How Has Social Media Changed Our Social Norms?

Social norms are best described as the rules set in place to define what is considered to be appropriate behaviors and values. These rules can be explicit or implicit. Within any given type of group, social norms are in place – implied or not. Failure to abide by these rules can result in dire consequences such as exclusion from the group itself. You must always embrace these rules… there’s no such thing as staying neutral when it comes to what is expected.

These rules of society are as old as time itself. These can include such “everyday” behaviors like saying please when asking for something, smiling when being introduced to another person and giving your attention to those around you in social settings. Mike Arrington recently wrote a piece about using his phone at the dinner table which caused me to wonder how the advent of social media has changed our social norms? Is it really okay to use a phone – or a computer – at the table?

In his article, Mike talks of how it’s no longer bad form to whip your phone out at the dinner table – even in public. “Love it or hate it, this is becoming the norm. And when it fully becomes the norm, there will no longer be the same stigma attached to checking your phone at a restaurant,” writes Arrington. As I read those lines, my brain started to churn. I thought back to the last time I was out to dinner with friends. I was brought up in the Midwest, remember. You simply don’t pull your phone out at the table.

I was shocked, then, when several of my friends whipped their phones out during the meal… and when I caught myself doing it, as well. I hadn’t even thought about it. I realize now that I’ve been doing it for quite a while. I surreptitiously looked around the dining room and noticed that nearly half of the people sitting at tables were talking to those around them – and were also checking things on their phones. When the heck had we become so blase about what is considered to be acceptable? How did things like this become our social norms?

I have realized that the advent of social networking sites has shifted what our perception of acceptable practices are. Take a look through your Twitter stream. There are things said in less than 140 characters every few seconds which many of us would never have said in public up until recently. We may be interacting with the same crowd via Twitter, but the way in which we communicate has most definitely shifted.

I believe that sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Quora and others have not only changed the way we connect to others, they have also given us a new outlook as to what should be socially acceptable. Putting ourselves out there in the public space allows us to be more real – it takes away the stigma of meeting someone in person. We are much more relaxed when we communicate online and therefore more open, as well. This has carried over into our “real” lives in a big way, as evidence by the change in our social norms.

Gone are the days of hiding your phone under your napkin at dinner. Done away with are the stigmas attached to so many of the behaviors taught to us growing up as being acceptable. Of course we’re still going to say please and thank you. Hopefully, you will offer your seat to the elderly lady standing in the bus aisle. I’m sure you will smile and make eye contact when being introduced to someone and treat people with respect.

However, I’m willing to bet that you’re going to check into foursquare during dinner – and take pictures of whatever is on your plate for Foodspotting. This, my friends, has become the type of social norms which we embrace in today’s fast-paced social media world.