Tag Archives: interpersonal communication

It’s courtesy, stupid.

Humans communicate far more boldly from behind a wall than they do face to face.

Think about it. Many are quick to brandish a middle finger when cut off in traffic. Even a certain Southern Gentleman I know does it.

What is it about being safely encased in steel and glass that gives people the freedom to flash an obscene gesture or bark an expletive at a complete stranger—even if that person has done something unintentional, such as changing lanes prematurely?

Would we flip a digit at a fellow passenger who butts in line for boarding? Would we invoke the name of one’s dear mother for colliding with our cart at the supermarket? Of course not.

We’re uninhibited with our language on the telephone when we find a customer service rep incompetent or unsympathetic. Would our words be so harsh if we were looking the person in the eye? We know the answer.

If you and I travel in the same social media sphere, then you may recently have witnessed my (very polite) outburst over the way people speak about one another online. While I’ve since made peace with a number of my offenders, this provides occasion to reinforce a simple courtesy: Never say (or mime) anything from behind a wall that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.

Tuesday night, when the presidetial election results were announced, my Facebook feed erupted with hateful comments. I’m not talking about comments expressing sadness about the outcome or disappointment in the process. Those are understandable when something you’ve hoped for—even worked for—does not turn out your way.

I’m talking about comments describing those who voted differently. Not aimed at circumstances; aimed at people.

The predominant adjective was stupid, with a few “idiots” sprinkled in. “How can people be so stupid?” “Well, that just proves you can’t fix stupid.” “50 percent of the country just showed us that stupid is as stupid does.” “The idiots who re-elected our current president…”

Hey, that’s me you’re talking about. And, in quoting you here, I’ve done you the courtesy of correcting your grammatical and punctuation errors. Just so you don’t look … well, you know.

In all fairness, some of the bullies and their cheerleaders have simmered down. Some have even apologized. I’m grateful for that and for the opportunity to remember that we all need to put the “face” back in Facebook.

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Filed under Politics, Rants and Raves, Technology and Social Media

H’lo? H’lo?

Everybody’s talking. They’re saying that nobody’s talking.

In the past week, there’s been some news and commentary about shifts in the ways people communicate. Many are giving up their land line phones in favor of cell phones and some aren’t using their cell phones at all–for talking, anyway. 

In “The Death of the Phone Call,” published in Wired magazine, essayist Clive Thompson puts the bottom line in simple terms. Today, he says, we are in “constant, lightweight contact,” following a dramatic decline in the number of calls made from telephones—especially cell phones. Essentially, we call less but talk more, but we’re “talking” via other media—text messaging, instant messaging, social media and, to a lesser extent, e-mail.

Facebook is a prime example of this constant, lightweight contact. It allows us to know what and how our friends are doing–their successes, worries, vacation plans, and cute things their kids said. We like knowing about these things, but we might not have 30 minutes to spend on the phone hearing about it.

The topic popped up a few other places this week and made me think. If I suspect my son hasn’t read an important e-mail, I usually text him that there is a message that requires his attention. If that doesn’t work, I shoot an instant message across the bow. If that doesn’t work, he gets the dreaded phone call.

It seems, by all accounts, no one wants the call.

An article in The Washington Post yesterday dug deeper into why this is so.

People interviewed for the piece cited a few reasons they don’t reach out and touch someone. Whether or not these are really why the kids don’t call, I don’t know. But, as the caller and the callee, I get it.

The immediacy of the phone call strips the callee of control. By dialing the phone, the caller is saying, I want a block of your time right now–when it is convenient for me. In contrast, texts and e-mails can be sent at the sender’s convenience and read at the recipient’s.  

Those interviewed also said they viewed calling as impolite and intrusive, “more of an interruption than the blip of an arriving text.” Another observed that answering the phone requires a certain amount of psychological energy.

To a large extent, I agree. What disturbs me, though, is a trend that appears to go along with the new communications order. The Post article also noted that people avoiding the phone are often guilty of two sins–not returning calls and ignoring invitations.

Those of us who retreat from a ringing phone are by no means excused of our obligations to behave politely. 

I don’t care what generation we occupy, how busy our schedules are, what time zones we live in or how happy we are to receive a particular call, the rules remain clear:

If someone leaves a message, we return the call.

If someone calls inviting us to something, we R.S.V.P., even if it is by text message.

Postscript:  As it happens, my son called last night, after I was asleep, to share some good news, which he received while reading his e-mail. I welcome that call, day or night.

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Filed under Family and Friends, News, Technology and Social Media