Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reach Out and Plug In


I love the way Blogging provides topics of conversation. As I sat drinking iced coffee with my friend Lydia today in the Arlington Murky Coffee after hiking around Roosevelt Island in the stinking heat, I threw out Aileen’s comment about the disappearance of manners and an interesting conversation followed.

Here is my comment on Aileen’s post:

The bottom line is we live in a society of selfish people. Selfish people breed selfish little people. They all think the world evolves about them and they can do as they damn well please (with no thank you.) Children learn from the example of their parents. If they see the parents abusing cell phone use in public, how can we expect anything else from the next generation? I'm happy to say that I think my kids would pass a politeness test, with perhaps a few points deducted from my daughter's score for cell phone usage. But much of our society would fail miserably and not even wince at getting a bad grade. It's sad that good manners have become as passe as rotary dial phones. We gave up a lot when we entered into the new millennium! So how do we get it back? Is it lost forever?

Lydia saw an interesting extension of this, noting that even though we are more connected electronically with music and with friends, it’s a virtual connection. We have traded tangibility for immediacy. This translates into the fact that a person now walks down the street with a Bluetooth earbud and an Ipod and a cell phone to completely mesmerize her to the point of never noticing the beautiful flower or the beautiful building or the beautiful person she passes. She suggested a movie called something like “You and Me and Someone Else”, which addresses this topic. Does anyone know this movie – the exact title?

This type of behavior creates a totally virtual world in which it is seldom necessary to have face-to-face interaction with anyone. We can have Internet friends and Internet tunes and Internet games and Internet shopping and virtually any number of other connections we could possibly want without having to go anywhere at all. It also means there is no necessity to dress up or brush your teeth or extend your hand in greeting.

What a very different world children today live in from the one in which I grew up. We played outside all day with friends, coming home only for dinner some days. We rode our bikes to the park. The only electronic staple in our lives was the television set, where we often took an afternoon break to watch LoonyTunes. In the South, we said “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” and never addressed adults by their first names. Manners were not optional.

Did the presence of manners and the absence of electronics make us better people? Probably not, but ours was a different world back then before life became virtual.

11 Comments:

Blogger Kristin said...

I do think that the electronic medium allows people to shed responsibility or accountability for their actions. It's a lot easier to be rude or even cruel if you cannot see the outcome. It's a shame.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

I agree that the ever present cell phone is an interruption and a way of separating people even when they are together. I saw any number of couples this weekend who were walking side by side, each with a phone to the ear. And here I was on vacation partly to be away from the constant presence of phone and computer. I grew up much the way you did, albeit even more rural, often spending days by myself and by choice. When I was with someone, I was THERE, not distracted by someone else trying to reach me by phone.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- I totally agree that being face-to-face tends to improve interpersonal behavior.

Pauline -- I just fail to understand why every conversation seems to have a new urgency these days. In the old days (when you and I were growing up), there were no answering machines and certainly no cell phones. Most things simply waited until contact by phone or in person was possible. Undivided attention now comes at a premium. Somehow I don't measure that as progress.

9:44 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

And we haven't even touched on the subject of drivers. Combined with cell phones, it's lethal. What are the odds that a DC driver talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving(and thus breaking the law) is a courteous person?

2:54 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I have an alternate theory about this. I think the social revolution in the 1960's and 70's, which was mostly a good thing, opening the minds of people to good causes like feminism and Civil Rights, also brought down old standards of etiquette. "Let it all hang out," was one of our mottos. The shift in manners is the unfortunate fallout from that moment in history, at least I think so.

Your husband is one of the most polite, unselfish people on the planet - and yet he's plugged in to the max. KOB of DCBlogs is another example of a very polite person who is way into electronics. I think I'm fairly polite myself, and I could name others, too. I don't think this is about cel phones.

My 2 cents.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Matt -- Probably not great odds. But I must admit to occasionally driving while speaking on my cell phone (multi-tasking) and I am definitely a polite person.

Reya -- This post was not meant to simply be a rant on cell phones, but rather an observation that we as a society have often chosen to sacrifice our direct involvement with people and the world around us because of our fascination with electronics, including cell phones, Ipods, earbuds, etc, and our conviction that those things just can't be put on hold. We simply can't have it both ways and it has been proven time and again that humans are not very good at multi-tasking.

9:12 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

It seems ironic to me that the technology that is designed to "keep us connected" is the very thng that does not allow us to "really" communicate with each other as people, up close and personal. Virtual time is nothing like live connections or time actually spent with people. I'll always be an unplugged person.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- That was exactly the point my friend Lydia was trying to make. You ask any person walking along with a headset of any kind on what she saw in the past 3 blocks and she would probably be unable to name a thing. We must all make choices about things like this, but I am with you!

2:20 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

I don't think it's the 60s social revolutions or the rise of personal electronics (which of course are polar opposites). I think it's the media. Take a look at typical prime time tv today, and 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The coarseness and vulgarity is astounding to me. Take a look at the supermarket tabloids, or one of Ruper Murdoch's newspapers in Britain (his main newspaper has a page 3 or something every day showing topless women). Listen to talk radio of the past 15 years. When people disrespect individuals, political opponents and groups for so many years over our influential print media and the airwaves, it is bound to have an effect on the daily behavior of many people.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Matt -- You raise some very interesting points here. I'm sure that parents and children alike are affected by the media, which it's virtually impossible to avoid. Between the tabloids in the supermarket line and the daily fare on TV we are bombarded with vulgarity. It takes a great effort to avoid it.

10:48 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

I have a problem with manners, it conjures up images of stiff, stuffy Victorian protocols. I much prefer sincerity. What is important for me is genuine respect for the dignity of the person. Protocol and rules are secondary.

9:36 PM  

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