While summer moves to press upon us a deeper experience of summertime as we near the peak of its season, we find ourselves teetering two ends of a social spectrum. One such end embraces the en mass ethos of summertime crowds, and the communal energy of public forums; the other finds reproach and social martyrdom by private retreat. It seems whichever end of the spectrum one familiarizes with has more to do with personality and character disposition than anything else. Or does it? While society at large has generally become more obnoxious and overbearing, more laissez-faire and consequently, more pervasive, we are beginning to see recoil of nonconforming minorities. All this begs the question: What are the unspoken social rules that govern our public campsites, beaches, restaurants, public transport, museums, plazas, and so forth? Who polices our behaviors beyond the bubble land of “good parenting”?
The range of social etiquettes has always been dictated and policed by society at large, which in itself, is reflected by the present day culture. Society and culture, in turn, are arguably ordained by social and political contract, (a general understanding between peoples about how they want and choose to live). Like all things, social etiquettes are changing with the times to accommodate a wider range of acceptable behaviors, and with cruel irony, they flip the rules of yesteryear on its head to embrace a sort of, anarchistic, all-access, social neoliberalism. America is partly to blame. Reality TV is partly to blame. Capitalism is partly to blame. Social media, digital technologies, globalization, the internet, advertising, multinationals, in short, all things that link us to a greater social community by way of stripping down our personal privacies and civil liberties, have each contributed to a different set of social guidelines. Propriety and decorum, once revered as two of the most sacred understandings of social etiquette, (the holy grails of society, if you will), have now become obsolete. “Society” is not what it used to be. Though still a governing body of sorts, society feels more anarchy than order. It’s mantra holds, the-louder-and-more grotesque-the better attitude that trashes the “ancient” ways of propriety and decorum for a newfound belief in the rock star mentality, self-entitlement, intimidation, quick gratification, and ego-laden precedence, all propelled by a growing global consciousness. This has seen an increase in gun violence throughout North America, gang-related crimes, drugs, road-rage, domestic abuse, bullying in our schools, and so on. It is not surprising then, that we are becoming far less trusting, more suspicious, bitter and irritable. It is even less surprising that summertime crowds can now be seen as an annoyance, or a source of stress rather than a cause for celebration. So what about this thing called, “personal privacy”? How has it become so compromised and what will be the inevitable outcome of its untimely demise? With global overcrowding and overpopulating, it seems privacy will forever be a thing of the past. However, that doesn’t mean privacy should become forfeit all together, nor does it mean we should leave society to its own devices. We must therefore re-examine social etiquette, to determine its true meaning and purpose in order to come to grips with who we collectively are and who we want to be.
In North America, etiquette rules have always generally applied to all individuals, (unlike those cultures with more formal class structures), its bearings orientated by a shared European heritage. However, we have since done a lot of “growing up,” whereby the social norms inherited from our European ancestors have mutated into a new kind of social understanding. Described by sociologists as being informal laws that govern society’s behaviors, social norms seem essential to the welfare of society at large, as they labor to promote a great deal of social control. Often times, if people do not adhere to these norms, they will be labeled as deviants, delinquents or misfits, making them social pariahs. Nonetheless herein lies the inherent crux of the problem – what is considered “normal,” is relative to the culture in which the social interaction is taking place. So we must then ask ourselves: what are the norms in our culture that allow people to become socialized through conformity? While norms dictate the interactions of people in all social encounters to promote certain roles of society, we can’t help but reflect upon the generally accepted behaviors of today. The Real Housewives franchise and TLC’s Toddler’s and Tiara’s are testaments to that. Televised sports, another illustration. The food industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, Justin Bieber and other YouTube phenomenon all serve as other such examples. This is reflected within the breakdown of the home. Television is the new babysitter. Pop tarts the new breakfast. Fame over family, money over intellect, and digital technologies have become the platform from which we can grow into the social Frankensteins of our modern era. All of this sees a loss of personal space, privacy and our ultimate civil liberties. Psychologists tend to agree that most people value their sense of privacy and personal space and feel discomfort, anger, or anxiety when their sense of privacy is encroached. However, what was once considered an indication of familiarity and intimacy, has now become communal and unrestricted, whereby social media has made the publication of personal life a social norm. Even though, ironically, things like social media were initially created on the premise of expanding social networks, creating greater social communities and extending social acceptance, they have, in essence, done the complete opposite.
Despite all the inherent issues concerning the historical social etiquettes of the Old World, today’s social norms seem even more insufferable, nonsensical, unethical and nonhuman. Like a rebellious teen, we have dissented against the social norms of our forbearers, to swing out as far as we possibly can away from a perceivable oppressive past. However in doing so, so we have also lost our integrity, our intelligence, and our sensitivity… in short, our humanity. It is now the time to re-evaluate. It is time to make serious decisions. How do we want to raise our children? Bearing in mind cause and affect, what kinds of pop culture things do we want to support and why? Perhaps we must forego the freedom of social media and the Internet, in order to protect our civil liberties and human rights. Perhaps we must do the unthinkable we thought we’d never do: we must disconnect. We must limit. We must show restraint. This is how and where we shall recover our privacy.
In the heart of the summer months, it is easy to feel this sense of urgency over our private space. Crowded public pools, beaches, tennis courts, walkways, campsites, buses, coffee shops, high volume traffic and lineups, see us all fighting for a piece of the pie. But it’s not just summer thronging that creates this kind of anxiety. Indeed it is our very culture that acts the sincere instrument of personal stress, exacerbated by what was once an enjoyable thing like beach days and family fishing trips. So, when the Beverly Hillbillies move in on your campfire with their caravan of cats, dogs screaming children and roaring engines simply because you’ve got the best spot on the beach, you now know who and what to blame. But you have the choice. You can stay and pitch a tent alongside them, or you can get up and walk away, never looking back.