How Facebook Killed Party Etiquette

Being polite has gotten stuck between social media and social butterfly.

Growing up, I was taught—probably like you were—that it was best be a little discreet about one’s social engagements. It wasn’t just about preserving an air of mystery about yourself (that was a bonus); it was that you simply never knew who was and was not invited to a soiree, my mother always said, or who would and would not end up upset if they weren’t at your intimate little dinner party. It was about avoiding hurt feelings as well as not putting any host in an uncomfortable position. It was, I think, a small and considerate rule that most of us adhered to without much trouble.

Until now, anyway. Nope, now it’s just one more little courtesy torn asunder by Facebook, where you snap a pic, call it an Instagram, post, and voila: What once was gauche is now just “sharing your status.” And it’s all cool, it would seem, so long as our new and incessant need to share, share, share everything from that Tuesday night book club meeting to our intimate dinner party is met. And so we post it all, not just sharing with those in attendance at said social gathering, but also with our third grade Sunday School teacher, our friends’ parents and—more problematically—all those other dear friends who didn’t get an invite to that intimate dinner party and that friend whose boring book club you dropped out of to join your current awesome one.

So sure, forget about cultivating any aura of mystery. Mystery is dead. My question is this: Can you be polite and also be on Facebook?

I think that in this particular way, you cannot. I never envisioned myself, at the age of 32, fretting over what to say to Friend A who noticed that hey, Friend B threw a party for Friends C through K, and where was Friend A’s invite? Poor Friend B, by the way, didn’t even know that Friend D had taken so many pictures and posted them on Facebook, and was therefore a Facebook victim same as Friend A. So … everybody loses. (Except Mark Zuckerberg.)

Suddenly I’m back in middle school, trying to guess what my mom’s etiquette solution would be to this modern-day rudeness that even as children we knew to avoid.

But that’s the problem: Our lives and social interactions are moving much faster than our rules and our etiquette for them. Seems like only recently have some sort of codified manners been extended to cell phones—not that people heed them. Any sort of rules about photo-sharing on Facebook are eons away. (That’s if we even care enough to come up with ways to be courteous to each other anymore …)

And while I think that there’s definitely something to be said—probably something not so great—about why lots of us need to share so much with so many, that’s another post. For now, I simply wonder if the dual appeal of exhibitionism and voyeurism just wins over anything else, including the sensibilities and, yes, feelings of our real-life, real-time friends.

For the record, I don’t consider myself an innocent. I am, after all, on Facebook, and I look at pictures, too. I’ve posted some myself. It’s a delight to see all my friends’ babies on screen, and fun to say hey to old pals, and great when someone has a milestone birthday or wedding or vacation or any number of life moments that I get let in on. (Also, I use it to shamelessly self-promote this blog. Hi, friends– thanks for reading!)

Yet those things don’t keep me from a big twinge of annoyance when my father, who lives 830 miles away, realizes that the reason I was hitting “ignore” on his calls was not because I was tied up with important stuff, but because I was at “brunch with the gang” as posted by one of the gang members. Or when the friend I’ve been canceling on too much lately notices that I’m still managing to make it out quite a lot with other friends, thanks to those other friends’ Instagram habits.

If it bugs you so much, you might be saying to yourself, why just not quit Facebook, woman? I’ve thought about quitting, actually. But aside from the fact that I’d miss the baby photos and the self-promotion and all, there is also this: Quitting will not change the world back to pre-Facebook privacy. Now, as long as there are human beings and cameras, you will be published. Your social life is on Facebook, even if you aren’t.

And so I suppose I just wish a few old social graces would apply to our newly public social lives. For the benefit of all those real friendships out there, I mean.