Monday, February 14, 2011
A few days ago, I got a note from a normal seeming guy. He asked what I was studying. I wrote him back answering with,
"Education, teaching. Have a great weekend!"
Minutes later I received a note back from him.
"I guess you think you're pretty hot stuff and in real demand! You didn't even bother to write a question back to me. Good luck lady, U L NEED IT!" (caps his, not mine).
Sigh. Is it just me, or has dependency upon computers for everything from work to ordering food or shoes or even mates made for a less civil society?
A great teacher allowed me to observe her last quarter for one of my courses. I thanked her on the last day and told her that her thank you note was in the mail. (It was.) She looked genuinely surprised and I asked,
"Doesn't everyone do that? If someone does me a favor, kindness, or service, I send them a thank you note."
"No," she said, "Some don't even say it in person. But you must have been raised right."
While I was glad for the compliment and thanked her, it got me to thinking about the level of civility today.
After all, why should we be civil? We live in our own little cubes at home, watching pre-recorded TV shows on our own schedule; everything is customized just for us. We can pick and choose every aspect of life and discussions around the water cooler about something heard on the radio that morning vanish; everyone listens to their own playlists. Even news is personalized. People turn to channels that reinforce their existing viewpoint and the gap between people widens.The internet allows us to find out all kinds of things about people before we meet them. And yet, people still post their most personal dirty laundry on sites like Facebook and then wonder why they are heckled in return. Does it only take a few wires and radio waves to undo all good manners and turn us into gossipy fourteen year old mean girls?
Consider the last time you took some form of public transportation like a bus by yourself. How many people were both reading and wearing earbuds to signal the world to go away? How many people were talking to strangers except the one crazy guy in the back?
Whether in a car or bus, we're in a bubble and many go to work to be penned up in a cubicle staring at that obsequious blue-violet computer screen all day. I don't think that having too much access to information is the problem; it's the quality of the information. Many people simply will not step out of their comfort zone and investigate anything beyond photos of cute animals, videos of crime victims autotuned and mocked for their enjoyment, or diatribes on their pet peeves. Is it more choice or is it just more?
True, interaction with people can be irritating and exasperating. I doubt, for example the man who wrote me those notes would have behaved that way if he just met me face to face. It is understandable that we look to technology to cure everything including loneliness. Five minutes in person can tell you so much more about a person than weeks of chatting back and forth. It seems that people either put their best or worst selves on display in cyber land, but not their true selves. I have a friend who is a young single mother and she has found weathering the dating world to be brutal. Men will write things to her that no one would every say in public. the jerkwad heory knows no gender though. The mean girls and women of the world write horrible hurtful things abou anyone; I don't just mean things like. "UR a jerk." but rather things like, "you are so ugly and fat yo should be anorexic, no one wants to be near you, go die in a fire!" on public pages. In old fashioned chat and posting sites, people spew pure venom about their lovers, friends, and relatives and are cheered on by other disconnected miscreants.
Every time I have to write a paper, I want to get an update on the goings on in the lives of family and friends, or someone challenges me about a fact like who was the actress in Some Kind of Wonderful, I am glad to have the internet. Let's face it, it makes life faster and easier. But if we relegate the majority of our human interaction wires and waves aren't we often missing more than we learn?