I received a friendship request today on a social networking platform for communicators. I have no idea who this person is, and I suspect that he is a consultant randomly inviting other people to be his friend in order to expand his prospect list. His message basically just says hello and provides no info on why he wants to be my friend (and after looking at his profile, I still have no idea). In the past, when I’ve accepted such requests, I’ve found myself inundated with announcements about the other’s speaking engagements and book releases. It’s more like social spamworking. So what’s the etiquette? Is it ok to just say no?
I did a web search to see if I could find guidance and stumbled on a really interesting post about the blurring of public and private spaces. Richard Bailey talks about the public space becoming privatized, but I’m not so sure. Isn’t it more a question of private space becoming public?
I think this tension between public and private, community and individual has always existed. The balance we find shifts from one era to another and from one culture to another. It used to be considered normal for any adult in the community to punish any child’s infraction. Now, even the power of teachers to punish their pupils is limited because it would be interfering in the parents’ child-raising approach.
When I first moved to Europe, I was bothered by all the closed doors and fences. I come from a village where no one locks their house and a culture where people just drop in when they are in the neighbourhood. I took some French friends to the US six years ago and was struck by one of their observations: In Europe, fences are to keep the neighbours out, while in America, they are to keep the dogs and children in.
I moved to Paris from Brussels about seven years ago. I never quite adjusted to the different mentality. When I was in Brussels, people would call to spontaneously propose activities or would even just stop by and ring the bell to see if I was in. In Paris, everything occurs by appointment. If a man’s home is his castle, here it has a drawbridge and a moat. Then I moved to the suburbs this summer and found myself in a different world. Neighbours pop by, spontaneously invite us over for drinks, give us cake and other goodies, etc. (I’m in heaven.)
These are just a few examples of the different ways people navigate the tension between the collective and the individual. In the metro, everyone listens to their music, does their own Soduko, reads their own book, but rarely do we interact with others. I’ve come to believe that this is a coping mechanism for being forced together like cattle. Since we have no physical space, we are forced to create psychic space around ourselves. Something will occasional happen to break the ice and allow people to talk to one another. It may be the driver warning passengers about the pickpockets who just boarded car 3. It may be tourists asking for help getting to their destination. It may be a child or a dog. But these events give us a safe way out of our isolation.
To come back to the first point and public relations, my open-ended question is: What are the consequences from this perspective of the blurring of public and private spaces? If we have reacted to cities by retreating into our invisible bubbles, what will happen to us as we are increasingly hemmed in by different communications media? And what will be the implications for public relations? Since I don’t even begin to have any answers, I would be really interested to hear other people’s views.