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No Manners In The Internet Age

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The Internet has exposed the best of us and the very worst of us. It turns perfectly rational, decent people into absolute monsters of lost inhibitions. If email isn’t bad enough, the Internet forums are even worse. People have lost all sense of civility. They don’t care who they hurt, what they say, or how they say it.

One of my good friends, a best-selling author, is the nicest person you could ever meet. Put a keyboard under this person’s fingers with a modem and a connection to the Internet and this little stinker of absolute truth and unflattering straight talk emerges. This person doesn’t lie, but tells things in the unvarnished exactly what they are with no sugar coating. Things can get testy.

Several weeks ago my behavior was questioned when I sent an email to one of my sister’s children, reading the riot act. The kid, now 21, was hysterical. The offended grandmother (my mother) was hysterical. I was sick and tired of the way my sister (the mother) was being discussed all over the country via email and painted in the worst possible light. My sister was pleased that I did it. Truth hurts.

Email truth is something very straightforward, no holds barred, and no waiting for the next post to mail the letter. (Oh, the bucket of cold water thrown across a very spoiled head did some good, which was the whole point.)

Don’t get me wrong; we need to tell the truth, but it helps to go about it with a little bit of diplomacy and it seems like there is no diplomacy on the world wide web. We write things we would not say face to face or on the phone.

If these sentiments were put into a letter, a cooling off period would lapse between the time the letter was written and the letter was posted. We would have time to think things over and maybe tone down our rhetoric. Maybe what we need is a send later button flashing up there on the task bar. Many relationships would be saved.

Internet forums are even worse.

The problem with the forums is that familiarity breeds contempt. Over a period of years people get to know one another online. Unless they are fortunate enough to meet, as do many of those of us who have been involved in several forums for quite a few years now, you don’t have the luxury of putting face to name. Maybe it is a luxury because you lack the civilities of acquaintanceship and can say what you think. Maybe it is bad because you lack the civilities of acquaintanceship and can say what you think.

Yesterday, while I was getting a pedicure to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my broken elbow, Michelle, the saloon owner, had to stop to take a call from her friend. Seems like her friend was breaking up with her boyfriend and wanted to read the “Dear John” email to Michelle. Naturally this sparked a conversation about the topic of emailing and regretting.

This brings up another problem with email. How can you create really good screwball comedy out of a person trying to retrieve an email? The whole idea of some stupid idiot doing a dumpster dive into a mailbox to retrieve a hastily composed letter is classic comedy. It just doesn’t translate well with email.

There is the usual breaking and entering scenario, but what good is it? You go to all that trouble, break into a person’s house, and delete the offensive email only to discover the guy has a Blackberry and gets duplicates. Okay, you could do really stupid comedy and try and grab the Blackberry, but it’s just too far fetched, as if dumpster diving in a mailbox isn’t far fetched. Didn’t Lucy and Ethel try something like that one time?

Have we truly adjusted to warp-speed communications? Has the advent of the Internet and email made us ruder and less polite, or were we always that way? What are we going to do about it?

I for one am going to go out and order some new stationary and try writing notes for a change. That’s the ticket; I’ll make a New Year’s Resolution! Yea, that’s the ticket; but no one can read my handwriting, present company included. How can I write gracious bread & butter notes on proper stationary if my handwriting would make a doctor cringe?

Well, guess I’m back to email. So much for that resolution – won’t even make it to New Years.

I do promise to try to behave myself and be nice and not tell anyone off on line. I do need to go. I’m really ticked at a friend. I need to send him an email!

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About SJ Reidhead

  • Baronius

    This is a very good article. Of course, my sense of irony demands that I say “you suck”.

    I’ve been thinking about this because of another very impersonal type of interaction, driving. I think there’s really a downward trend in driver courtesy, from the thumpa-thumpa speakers to passing on the shoulder. But that’s the kind of thing that people complain about as they get older. I’m not sure if I’m objective.

    Back to the internet. As you noted, the immediacy of the communication allows for no cooling-off period. “You have unsent messages! Are you sure you want to sign off without sending?” IM is even worse. So do you think there is a solution to the problem?

  • S.T.M

    Baronius wrote: “I’ve been thinking about this because of another very impersonal type of interaction, driving.”

    Well, mate, all I can say is that if you were driving on the proper side of the road these things wouldn’t happen.

    Top article, BTW. My personal view on this is that you don’t say anything by email or on internet forums that you wouldn’t say in mixed company at the pub … before the third beer kicks in.

  • What a telling and frightening article — really good!

    There seems a continuum from replying to someone, writing a note on real paper, waiting to call them on a phone (preferably with a cord into the wall), sending an email and, finally — Life 2.0 commenting on an on-line forum/comments/social site…

    Never before have so many needed so little time so often to think before they write. Next generation Apples will be lightning-fast but programmed to wait a few minutes before allowing posts on internet comments.

    Even virtual minds lacking faces might have feelings. There are humans behind those screens. It is something to put on a sticky.

  • Mark Saleski

    fantastic post. so true. and you will notice the relative lack of comments here, as too many folks are off on the politics threads calling each other stupid/misguided/delusional/etc.

    even after all these years, i’m still amazed at what people can turn into behind the keyboard.

  • ummm…hello, my name is Mr Hyde, and i…use the Internet

    “hello Mr Hyde”

    ok..good article and a great Point to bring up to the Light of day


    full disclosure: i can be pretty damn rough on Forums at times… and i readily admit a code of on-line Ethics has yet to be codified by those of us who fling typing around this digital Aether

    that being said, i can honestly state that i am actually nicer to folks online than i woudl be in person.. and that has been my rule of thumb since the late 80’s…

    never say anything on the keyboard you wouldn’t say to their face

    just a Thought