I went to a reception last evening and it struck me how not so long ago, it was impossible to imagine that the bride and groom would be readily mingling with the guests, relaxed and at ease with themselves and their environment. That they would step down from the elevated ornate seat was unthinkable. In fact, gone also are the throne-like chairs of yore, replaced instead by a loveseat of some sort.
In an entirely different context, it is now taken for granted that one can call one's superiors and leaders by their first name and not address them with a formal Sir/Madam, at most workplaces.
This and many other such examples led me to wonder that as a society, are we seeing a big shift away from formality?
The origins of formality
The concept of formality and its rules and regulations originated with the elite, the so-called upper class who painstakingly preserved their superior status by keeping a certain distance and restraint in just about everything they did. As one might expect in such a culture, rank and appearances carried great weight. One was expected to exercise authority and dress in accordance with one's social stature. Entertaining and conducting oneself with meticulous formality and social grace became the norm. Elegant speech was valued more than tangible effort and accomplishment. There was a reluctance of the classes to mix socially.
"Since formality came to be associated with compliance to rules and structures, informality became synonymous with chaos and lack of structure."
With this came restrictions in free expression. This came from the belief that any person of taste and refinement could not afford to wear their emotions on their sleeve - the proverbial stiff upper lip. It was this suppression of emotion and unblinking fortitude even in the face of most severe hardships, which defined "proper" societal behaviour of people of wealth and class.
Slowly, formality came to signify the "right" way to do things across various facets of life and across classes. There was formal dressing, formal dining, formal education system and formal workplace etiquette and so on. Since formality came to be associated with compliance to rules and structures, informality became synonymous with chaos and lack of structure.
The shift towards informality
Shift to today. The new generation of the privileged class is shying away from everything stiff and structured. In every possible way they seem to be different from their parents who went to great lengths to differentiate themselves from the general populace and to make apparent their wealth and power.
This new generation is casual and relaxed and comfortable in their skin. They do not want to be fussed about (it's in fact the nouveau riche that make it a point to display their wealth) and shun anything that makes them stand out. This class is not loud, they do not want to be seen flaunting their privilege and they shy away from anything that brings them in the spotlight. This is an open-minded and diverse population that readily shares information, encourages experimentation, accepts failure and believes in dispensing with any form of formality and hierarchy. It is this generation that is shaping the culture of loosening up and gradually weaning out formality from society.
So, how does this translate to modes of daily life?
Informality in our lives
1. Dressing down to stand out: Dressing up is passé. Gone are starched collars and shoes that could double up as mirrors. This generation prefers casual comfortable dressing any day as opposed to stiff fashion. Ultra-casual yet functional outfits are favoured by young entrepreneurs over stuffy and uncomfortable work wear.
"The legitimisation of emotional display has created a generation that is a lot more friendly, open and outspoken. Individuality, even eccentricity, is valued over conformity."
Yes there are black-tie and tuxedo events, but these serve as a social levelling device rather than an attempt to stand out. There is customisation to bring out the wearer's taste and upbringing but all with an attempt to blend in and yet be authentic and original in style.
2. Fine dining redefined: When people think of fine dining, they think of starched table linen, hushed conversations between sips of wine, a befuddling array of cutlery. But that's precisely what the new generation is eschewing. They like to stroll in to restaurants in their jeans and shorts, have a good laugh, enjoy the food, and pour out their own wine without being fussed over by waiters in livery. With travel broadening their culinary horizons, they are experimenting more with food in happening stand-alone joints that are more welcoming, accessible and fun. While the standards for the cuisine itself become more exacting, the ceremony around its consumption is a preoccupation of the past.
3. Feelings are in: Enough research and media disseminating it have eroded the myth that showing feelings is somehow a negative thing or a sign of weakness. Over the last 20 years we have learnt how to communicate with ease. Technology has greatly facilitated this process. Just look around on social media and you will notice a constant stream of emotional outpourings, ranging from personal revelations to reactions to external events. Reality TV is another place where you see mature adults break down and weep, laugh hysterically and generally brandish their emotions for all to see.
"Informality has slowly and unconsciously crept into every aspect of our life and this is changing the Indian societal fabric in fundamental ways. Better or worse, is for you to decide."
Changes in schooling and discipline have also played a part, making people less formal and more relaxed in social interactions across generations and classes. There is emphasis all around on self-esteem and free expression. People are encouraged to show their feelings and not suffer in silence. In the process, they shed the hangover from our country's feudal and class system. The legitimisation of emotional display has created a generation that is a lot more friendly, open and outspoken. Individuality, even eccentricity, is valued over conformity.
4. Casual workplaces: There has been a lot of research on the impact of the new generation on workplace culture. This lot of people is known to be demanding and require a lot of flexibility that is amenable to their lifestyle. As a generation that has grown up witnessing the evolution of technology and has become used to information at the click of a button, it expects work places to grow and evolve at the same pace and in the process shed their bureaucracy. This "here and now" generation enjoys workplaces that are flexible and nimble and make it easier for people to be more efficient. Faster and informal work environments that capitalise on opportunities and provide constant learning and growth for the employees are creating new norms and relationships at workplaces.
To sum it up, informality has slowly and unconsciously crept into every aspect of our life and this is changing the Indian societal fabric in fundamental ways. Better or worse, is for you to decide.