Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Technology and Civility

Is anyone else out there who is over 50 feeling a bit stressed over the decline of civility in our culture?

I was going to say I am blaming technology on this one, but that would excuse us from our responsibilities.  So I will frame my little discussion in this way.  My hypothesis is that as communication technologies advance, so civility declines.

Let's go back to the advent of the first non-voice or gesture originated communication device. Here is the evolution of technology, as I see it.

rocks piled in funny ways
stick in dirt
charcoal on rock or wood
smoke signals
charcoal and ink on paper
lead, then graphite on paper
Pony Express, US Mail
bag phones
cell phones
Facebook and other Social Media

Communication tools evolved to reach a wider audience. As time went on, not only were these tools trying to reach the masses, they were designed to do it in the fastest way possible. And make the most profit.  But here's the rub.

Jerry Mander, in his book "In the Absence of the Sacred", talks about growing up in the late 1930's and early 40's. Neighbors spent their evenings on their porches, visiting with each other, sharing the day's news, enjoying the sunsets, eating ice cream. You get the picture. Then came TV. The poor folks still sat on their porches visiting, the ones who could afford a television left their porches to sit in front of an electric box, staring into the light. Verbal exchanges became a series of gasps, oohs, and ahhs, with an occasional "Shhhhh I can't hear the TV". Soon everyone had a TV and the porches were abandoned. So were the evening visits.

Fast forward to today. People spending hours on social media sites, talking about whatever.  Each person has hundreds or thousands of "friends". They get mad at something someone posts and then promptly "unfriend" them without a word to their "friend". Then they find that they themselves have been "unfriended" and go into a fit of rage. My hunch is that they don't spend much time on the porch with these "friends".

Communication technology has rewarded quantity over quality. Your status is elevated (at least in your mind) if you have 789 FB friends versus a mere 3 or 4 real life friends. You spend more time and energy with these FB friends than your living breathing buddies.

Humans talking.
Even in the working world, quantity over quality prevails. Multi-tasking has led to folks being spread so thin they cannot respond in a timely manner to correspondence or phone calls, if they respond at all. There was a time, believe it or not, when you had a few letters a week in the mail ("snail mail" to you younger folks). Now, we have tens to hundreds each day with the senders wanting an immediate response. It is not humanly possible to be civil once the quantity reaches a tipping point. So both the sender and the receiver have more stress. Wait, wasn't all this to make life easier?

Ever since I can remember, the old folks always complained about how things were so much better than they are now. I am becoming an old folk, and now I understand what they meant.

FB "Friends"
Mander says that we never evaluate the impacts of these new technologies before we accept them into our society. And of course the companies that make them would not want us to. Would we have said yes to cell phones had we known that they may cause cancer and lead to increased traffic fatalities?  Would we have said yes to Facebook had we known that generations are spending more time on the computer with their "friends" and less time with each other, which may lead to increased stress, impaired social skills, and other negative things we have yet to realize? The answer may have been a resounding "Yes!". Or it may have been "We need to think about this more...". Or perhaps people would have thought about the kind of society they wanted to create and said, politely of course, "No, thank you".

I have not figured out how to deal with all this in my own life. I have the expectations of an "over 50" year old. I respond promptly to letters, emails, and phone calls because that is the civil, respectful thing to do. That is how I was raised. But others don't and I am left waiting.  Projects don't move forward. Ideas don't become realized. Sometimes I wonder if I am really alive in this world when so many people ignore the communications I send out. This gives me stress, it reduces the quality of my life. But I have yet to figure out how to deal with it.  I can implement the three strikes and you're out rule. I can let go and let God, as the old AA saying goes. I can have no expectations, but how does that work when communication is a two-way street?

So as I sit alone in my home every night waiting for a phone call or a visit, the rest of the world is busy talking with their thumbs, connecting through an invisible web that has trapped them all. They don't even notice there's no one around.

But I do.

1 comment:

  1. Something to ponder when I am feeling stressed.... What is the cause, how can I change it. Thanks Barb