danah boyd on boundaries, hang-ups and professional decorum

(NOTE: This is a discussion about appropriate boundaries in a professional context, and while not discussed at length, some of the things that are mentioned as inappropriate, some readers may find even the mention offensive. There is nothing explicit or anything like that—I’m just being sensitive to the very boundaries being discussed and letting you know up front.)

danah boyd (yes, for those of you who don’t know here, she chooses not to capitalize her name, so I respect that) is one of the most thoughtful and prolific researchers and writers on faceted identity in the digital world, or the idea that we have different identities in different contexts—professional, social, and romantic—and that we need to be able to maintain boundaries between those contexts.

Recently, danah stated her offense at an invitation to a party organized at the Etech conference in San Diego. Her issue was not so much with the photograph itself, but with its inappropriateness in a professional context:

I believe in social mores and social decorum. It is outright inappropriate to advertise a professional party in the way that one would advertise a play party. Different social contexts require different social norms. Images set expectations, intentions. Certainly, people have the right to offend, just as i have the right to be offended and state that offense. The point of my frustration is that offensive adverts are not the way to build community or encourage proper decorum that is inclusive.
[…]
The roles that i play in my personal life are different than those that i play in my professional life. At a professional activity, i want to go to a professional event, not one that is advertising itself as a sex party, offering up images of the expected roles of men and women. As professionals, we’re working towards gender equality; sexualizing a professional event does not continue that commitment.

I couldn’t agree more. I suppose that’s one of the thing that I find awkward about Orkut and Tribe—the lack of good boundaries between social, professional, and romantic.

It’s not that I’m a prude or anything. I just don’t even like being asked if I think a business colleague is “sexy” (Orkut), or seeing that people I’m interested in doing business with are in the “Open Marriage”, “Booty Call”, or “Bad Boys Are HOT” Tribe (Tribe.net—and those aren’t even in the “Mature” category).

Bottom line: unless you deliberately want to alienate a substantial portion of your audience, maintain a professional decorum, both online and off.