Since trading the genteel, well-trained manners of Atlanta, Georgia for the hectic, head-down focus of NYC, writer and marketing agency director Chris Black has noticed a steep decline in how well people treat one another. With his new book, I Know You Think You Know All, Black has written a modern version of Emily Post's epistles on manners and etiquette. Packed with 414 quips on everything from ordering coffee to holding a stack of money like a phone, Black's debut book offers sage advice that applies equally to the internet as well as the real world, where common courtesy that once prevailed has since faded from our social-media obsessed purview. Black spoke with The FADER about how he filled this self-help book with witty maxims for the self-absorbed, and why a little bit of kindness—and a few less selfies—can take you a long way.
What made you want to write I Know You Think You Know All? Well, I'm a very opinionated person and, I've learned the hard way that can be good and bad. Wes Del Val, who is the publisher at PowerHouse Books, was a fan of my Twitter feed, which serves as a source of information and opinions. He approached me about it and asked if I would be interested in writing a book. He thought there was an opportunity to do a 2015 version of Life's Little Instruction Book and that's what we ended up making.
Where did you gain the wisdom that has gone into this book? I've worked for myself for my whole life. So I feel like I've encountered a lot of different people over the years. Whether I'm dealing with a frat guy, or the ultimate cool guy, a photographer, a musician, there's knowledge or wisdom to be taken from all of those professions and situations. Also, I think it's trial and error, I've done some of that shit too. I am by no means the perfect expert, I just have an opinion and I think there's something for everyone in there.
Would you say that I Know You Think You Know Everything is a modern guide to etiquette? Weirdly, I didn't think about that when I was writing it. It was more just like, "This is funny." But looking back at it now, a lot of it is etiquette. I think that comes from my Southern upbringing. I definitely hold the door and say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am." But I also say "fuck" and suggest what drugs to do and what drugs not to do. Etiquette now involves 50% real life and 50% internet. That's the reality.
Did you feel that etiquette was lacking in the social media world as opposed to, or in addition to, the real world? There are people in my life that I really like but cannot stand them on the internet. Whether it be Twitter or Instagram, sometimes you have to unfollow that person, and try to separate the IRL from the online stuff. That's a lot of work—I'd rather just like you. I am 32 years old. I had AOL dial-up in middle school. My generation is the first one that really grew up with having the internet in our home. So I've had it my whole life. I've been there from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook to now, and I do think there are things that you should and shouldn't do. I'm happy to share those and I think that most people will agree with me.
How long did it take to come up with all of this? Did you just freestyle off the dome? Yeah, I was in the booth and I didn't write anything down [Laughs]. No, I hired an assistant, a girl named Nikki Jagerman, who takes classes at Upright Citizens Brigade and is super funny. I went to her with all of my material, and she helped me flesh it all out. It was me kind of throwing shit around, and then she tells me if it's funny or not. Then sat with an editor and went through them again. It was a much longer process than I would've thought.
What was the edit process like? How much was left on the cutting room floor? Sometimes people just don't get stuff. There's one that almost didn't make it in there. It was about holding a stack of money like it's a cellphone—which is some real rapper-on-the-internet-type shit that I find fucking hilarious. I made a joke about that and the people at Power House just did not get it. I sent them pictures of Soulja Boy and French Montana holding stacks, and they were like, "We know what it is, but like, what's the point?" I really fought for that one to make it into the book. We were very conscious that nothing would feel dated too soon. That's something that we struggle with all the time because the internet is a 24-hour cycle and everything moves so quickly. So that was probably the main reason why things got cut, because they felt too of-the-moment. In five years, I don't want readers to be like, what the fuck was this guy talking about?
Who's the most obnoxious famous person that you follow but you don't really want to unfollow? Fucking Drizzy Drake. I'll never unfollow him. I love Drake, I love Drake's music, but he's the kind of guy that'll post 10 photos in a row on Instagram. But I'm OK with that, because there's three of 10 that I'm gonna like, and that's worth it to me. That's a good ratio for a celebrity. You have to understand that the way celebrities use the internet and social media is very different than the way a regular person uses it.
Because of social media, has it become OK for people, not just famous people, to be openly self-absorbed? I'll agree with you on that. That behavior is rewarded. That's part of the reason that the selfie thing has gone so far, people see a response from it. If you put up five pictures a week and the selfie gets the most likes, you're gonna keep putting up selfies because they get the biggest response. Its a very easy thing to understand. Being self-absorbed in that way is definitely accepted. I think it's gonna get worse before it gets better.
Are there any social media platforms that you don't fuck with? I don't fuck with SnapChat. That's for teens. I know it's popping and everybody uses it and it's like a big thing. My peers use it, but i'll never fuck with that one. To me, it just seems so young. I'd have to learn how to use it which would make me feel old, so therefore i'm going to avoid it.
Since you've said so much in I Know You Think You Know All, what topic will your next book tackle? Give it some time and we'll see what comes up. There are little things that still bother me every fucking day. I hold the door for someone and they don't say thank you, that just blows my fucking mind. That's just some NY shit. Because people are just walking around with their heads down like, "I don't talk to anyone around me, I don't care." But I don't think that's the best thing for the world. I think a little please and thank you is OK. I don't think manners makes you weak.