Geek Etiquette: Be Willing to Change

I love collecting vintage self-help books. It’s fascinating to see what ideas and guidelines have changed over the years, and what have stayed exactly the same. This past week, I picked up a copy of “American Etiquette” from 1926. Along with chapters on visiting cards (WTF are those?) and chaperones, is one on the twentieth century. This book, created in 1926, was aware that the telephone and other upcoming inventions would change our ways of inviting friends to events and communicating as a whole. Here’s their take:

…Invitations to any but strictly formal functions are now sent by telephone, if agreeable to both parties; though it is still considered better to adhere to the more respectful written form if there is any doubt about the new way being acceptable to the party of the second part. While I counsel conservatism in these changes, I am convinced that the new dynesty of wire and wireless is destined to dominate us; and as discovery continues and inventions multiply, the time is near when immediate communication will be had at long range; possibly telepathy–who knows? Or, possibly tele-photography with it–why not? Then, the slow, laborious writing of messages will be as much out of date as the superannuated stage-coach.

But–not yet; we are still in the process of evolution. It is still safe to heed Pope’s famous advice: “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

It’s refreshing to see a nearly-century-old etiquette book give more modern advice than I’ve seen in many current-day books. When it comes to etiquette, it’s ok to change with the times. If someone tells you you need to send a formal invite for your dinner party, but your friends respond best to Facebook invites or tweets, do it your way. And if you’re still getting push-back from the person, show them this passage. As I learned while wedding planning, people can’t refute your etiquette argument if it’s backed up in a book.

What etiquette rules do you think need modernization?


  1. I can think of one set of etiquette rules that needs updating or at least re-inforcement: The art of making the first move. This whole breakdown of manners has to do with the fact that there is no commonly accepted protocol of “opening hailing frequencies”. I have no idea how to approach my neighbours without coming off as socially desperate. There should also be a socially acceptable way to respond with a healthy amount of distance without looking standoffish. If you ask me, Sheldon’s friendship algorithm wasn’t such a bad idea.

  2. That’s pretty funny, but I do have to say for some people, these tips could be extremely helpful. I can find something out of EVERY self-help book. I do have to say that Scott Edmund Miller’s latest book, “The User’s Guide to Being Human: The Art and Science of Self,” was a godsend to me in helping me think outside the box to discover my inner gifts.

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