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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Read Local: How Not to Be a Dick

Posted By on Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge hownottobeadick.jpg

New York City might be home to the big houses, but this scrappy city just happens to be the epicenter of publishing on the Best Coast. Join Alexis Coe every other Wednesday for Read Local, a series on books produced in the Bay Area.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a faux pas. At a wedding, no less. And the kicker is, I didn't even realize it.

The scene of the crime was a hipster venue in Brooklyn. The room was filled with lovely people I hadn't seen in a couple of years, and the rest were simply magical New England characters in blazers and brightly colored pants.

This is where I state my defense: I was distracted.

My offense? I didn't take a single picture on my Smartphone, thus precluding post-nuptial uploads to Facebook.

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I first learned that I had broken the social contract at brunch. Bleary-eyed and in desperate need of Karl the Fog, I was melting in the shadiest part of a sweltering courtyard when the first person approached and asked, expectantly, "Did you get a good picture of the ceremony?" A few minutes later, another guest attempted to commiserate on a lesser failure: "I didn't get the bride's face during the first dance, did you?" At least half a dozen people made further inquiries, and a week later, when I was back in the cool embrace of the San Francisco summer, a missive arrived from a well-meaning friend attempting to pool the pictures. I was having too much fun, I wrote back honestly, to which I received the incredulous, one line response: "You didn't take ANY photos?"

I'm not obtuse. I get that, expensive photographer aside, the multiple angles and myriad filters are desirable. Guests can catch fleeting, intimate moments on the sly, without the conspicuous lens of a specialist. On Facebook, I saw all the lovely moments pop up, one after another. (I also recognized the bathroom in some of the selfies-turned-profile picture, which is a whole different subject.)

I declare it online, to live on in perpetuity: mea culpa, lesson learned.

But this is not axiomatic etiquette, says the writer who huffs and puffs when her brother lays his iPhone on the dinner table. The Digital Age can be confusing, and I'm not the only one who needs even the most obscure expectations outlined. There are YouTube videos on Facebook manners, locker room etiquette, and tips on how to have a successful Instagram presence and win over the sushi chef.

But my medium is books, and I needed to look no further than my towering review stack for help, where an entire book on the subject was burried: How Not to Be a Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide by Meghan Doherty. The forthcoming title from Zest Books, a San Francisco-based publisher of nonfiction, promises to aid young adults with the necessary tools to navigate the modern world, replete with black-and-white, Dick and Jane-esque illustrations.

Active listening, shower etiquette, and tips about getting help in the classroom were indicative of the very helpful first half meant to, again, to instruct young adults, but after the first hundred pages, the reader rapidly ages. Or, perhaps, strikes it rich in tech and bypasses college. Either way, Dick -- and not Jane, who seems to be an associate with flexible hours -- goes from hating the boss to being him in just two pages. He's now fixated on team building and office parties. The text is suddenly light on information, heavy on comical reactions from Dick. Take "Wielding Power," which takes up nearly two pages with the following seven sentences:

As a boss, you have a lot of power. In some positions, you may find your power to influence change extends beyond the boardroom and into society itself. Lots of people and other companies may listen closely to what you say and do.

Perhaps you've found a loophole in government regulations--one that can make those able to exploit it very rich.

That's all well and good and comes with the territory. Just make sure you always consider the larger ramifications of your actions.

That section is lacking, to be sure, but there are far more successful and instructive passages to come. Chapter 7: The Internet begins with "WARNING: THE INTERNET IS FOREVER." Doherty is adept at reconciling human nature with technology, intent versus perception, before moving onto specific situations. She addresses commenting, the all important "Reading the Entire Article," the public nature of sexting or emailing, and given the intense attention paid to the subject of bullying, a couple pages to trolling. An effortless segue is made from hilarious memes to internet addiction, porn and all, with an emphasis on when to put down the phone and enjoy life in real-time.

How Not to Be a Dick is a useful guide, applicable to the here and now, but truth be told, I strongly prefer the kind of book that strengthens my own moral compass through trial and error, like Randy Cohen's most excellent Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything. Of course, Cohen didn't instruct me to have my iPhone at the ready during weddings, and while I'm sorry, there are worse transgressions. This modern world is strange and complicated, and I'm glad to have both How Not to Be a Dick and Be Good on my bookshelf.

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Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.

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Alexis Coe

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