Manners in 250 Characters or Less

After years of careful avoidance, of shaking my head ruefully as I watched the world, old and young alike, absentmindedly snap on electronic leashes with eyes riveted to 2”x 5” screens at all hours of the day, devices that have become an extension of themselves cradled in pockets and hands, their faces backlit by the brilliance of LED, everywhere and nowhere – restaurants, buses, jay walking across the street …well, I finally caved.

It’s not that I’m against technology – in fact, it used to be my business.  I was at the bleeding edge of designing and implementing new technology of all sorts for the better part of my previous career.

No, my reluctance to participate in the latest and greatest technological trend was mostly due to the fact that I enjoy engaging in conversation that doesn’t require the use of two thumbs.

It was only after a recent review of my old phone’s service plan, when I discovered I was maintaining the status quo at near equal costs, that I did what any other reasonable person would have done right from the start.  I traded in my archaic, built-to-government-spec, plain Jane cell phone for a bright-new-shiny Samsung Galaxy S5 smart phone.

I couldn’t help what followed.

One moment, I’m standing at the Costco Kiosk talking business and discussing data plans, and then, in the blink of an eye, the little girl that lives inside me wakes up and starts jumping up and down with glee, just like a little kid waiting for the carnival man to finish spinning her cotton candy.

Hopping from one foot to the other I waited for the vendor to finish the activation procedures and then held my breath as he carefully laid the sticky, protective sheeting onto a glossy perfect screen, sighing with relief as he finally snapped on the hard plastic shell of an Otter Box.

I ooo’d and ahh’d when the vendor, at long last, presented my prize, this technological wonder, as if it had been the King’s crown of England resting on a plush, red velvet pillow.   In cartoon land, this would have been the moment when the clouds parted and the angels began to sing.

Its sleek new screen shone bright with colorful icons as it buzzed to a series of beeps and blips from all the lions and tigers and bears that arrived at various in boxes and text boxes and whatever boxes.  It seemed to say, “Hi Robin.  Welcome to the rest of the world!”

I was enthralled with my new toy for the first month, maybe two.  I had lots of fun experimenting with all the apps, reveling in the convenience of 4G, and playing with its high resolution digital camera – totally amazed that I can snap a picture and send it to my daughter-in-law halfway across the world in a matter of seconds.

But my pleasure turned to dismay as I learned a startling truth, reminding me why I had avoided purchasing one of my own for so long.

Technology has again paved the way for a *meme* generation to further abandon good, old-fashioned manners, all in the name of progress.  It went right out the window, along with cursive writing that is no longer being taught in kindergarten and mailing postcards while on vacation.

Now before you start thinking I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, stuck somewhere in a 1950 mindset with June Cleaver and Ann Landers, let me explain.

This latest cultural phenomenon, called “social media” and “texting”, has created a whole new manner of speaking with one another that has never before existed – at least not on this scale.  Initially, restrictions of message space to 250 characters or less necessitated the need for brevity, for cutting the English language down to a kind of abbreviated pigeon English.  All of us recognize these commonly used euphemisms:  LOL, ROFL, where r u?

So who has space for manners or time to be polite?  “Please” takes up 6 characters and “Hi Jane – hope things are well with you,” uses a whopping 32…

I remember, in the not too distant past, a time when emails were considered electronic letters.  They always started with a salutation, ended with a closing, and then followed with the person’s name.  Proper grammar and punctuation were always honored, and the message body usually contained some pleasantness, stated before and/or after the sender got down to the purpose of the communication.

But now?  Emails are drafted like text messages – no best wishes or yours truly for the text generation.

Even when AOL instant messenger had first entered the scene – the precursor of “texting” in the days before smart phones, facebook messenger, and the like – there was a polite protocol in communicating with others.

Now I get texts from people I rarely see face to face, not to say hello or inquire as to my well-being, but to abruptly ask me for something they want or need – never preceded or followed by a please, thank you, if you don’t mind, at your convenience – only delivered with the expectation that I will immediately answer them because we all carry our smart phones in our pockets 24 x 7, right?

Progress is wonderful.  Technology enriches our lives.  But I personally can do without the new trend of non-cordial communication.  It takes only a moment to wish someone well, express a courtesy, say hello.  Kind consideration for others is not passé.  It’s just as important today as it was yesterday.

It is true that there is a time and place for everything, including texting – which is a marvelous invention of modern convenience but one, that in my humble opinion, is overused and encroaching into areas of our lives where it does not belong.

I don’t know, maybe I am a fuddy-duddy.  This post has already exceeded the length to where most people won’t read and I haven’t even begun to talk about Miss Manners or being polite – the very glue that holds a civilized society together – being slowly eroded by a people dependent upon social media as their primary form of communication.

I’m reminded of an old science fiction story, “The Machine Stops”, written in 1909 by E.M. Forster.

According to Wikipedia, “The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard ‘cell’, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine called the speaking apparatus, with which people conduct their only activity, the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.”

In March 2005, one essayist points out, “…if we allow these modern conveniences to develop as in Forster´s story, everybody would only sit in front of the computer or communication devices and not socialize with one another.”

Hmmm, it’s certainly food for thought.

I think I’ll exercise the off switch and power down for a bit.  The sun is shining outside my window.  I’m going to go for a walk.  Maybe I’ll meet a neighbor to chat with along the way…unless they’re glued to their smartphone.

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3 thoughts on “Manners in 250 Characters or Less

  1. While we might still be limited to 250 characters per message on some networks, ‘Pls’ and ‘How r u’ only take up three and five characters respectively and it would do people well to remember that. Texting and Social Media has a largely become a part of the instant gratification people have cone to expect these days, but it doesn’t have to be and, in my opinion, it should not be. It would do people well to remember when we’re not just sending a message out into the ether via the faceless device in our hands, buts peaking to another human being and I think that is what has been lost.

    1. Nello, thank you for your thoughtful response. It means a lot to me that you’ve taken the time to not only read my blog (LOL – it IS over 250 characters), but that you get the gist of what I was trying to convey.
      Best regards,
      Robin

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