Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The New Technology-Rudeness

We live in a world where the ability to communicate is easier than ever.  We have email, cellphones, faxes, texting, twitter, and more.  Along with the ease of communication has come some negative aspects such as spam and scams.  A negative side that is not often addressed is the loss of a personal human touch.  Many of our modes of communication do not involve face to face, or even voice to voice contact.  It wasn't that long ago that the only way to communicate was by mail or by talking to someone.  Of course there was also telegraph and telephone which were introduced in the mid to late 1800's.

The personal touch makes an enormous difference.  Try merging from three lanes to two while sitting there with your blinker on.  Nobody lets you in.  If you manage to make eye contact with another driver and give them a signal that you'd like to get in front of them, you will almost never be denied.  It's very hard to be rude to people that are real, not anonymous, or just a voice or electronic series of letters.

Dial a wrong number and the odds are you will be treated rudely or hung up on.  If someone actually takes the time to speak with you, figure out if you misdialed or have the wrong phone number, it's a day-making experience.

I recently had three experiences that, aside from being rude, were hurtful, and made me more cognizant of the negatives of our new technologies.

While on a recent vacation, I visited a park where my kids were playing with another woman's kids.  It turned out that she was a single mom, and we chatted for about an hour, ultimately agreeing that the next time I visited I would email her to arrange another play-date for our kids.  A few months later I emailed her to let her know that we were coming down and my kids would love to play with hers again.  No reply.  I tried again.  No reply.  I tried one more time (three strikes and you're out) explaining that I was not looking for a date, that I realized she may be involved with someone, but all I wanted was for our kids to play.  No reply. 

Maybe her email had changed, but I didn't get any returned emails.  I suspect that something in her life made her uncomfortable meeting socially with a single man and that rather than explain that to me, she simply ignored me, which was easier for her.  In fact, she can even put my email address on a list so that it won't even appear in her inbox.

I recently re-connected with an old girlfriend.  We shared a few long phone calls and many emails, all within a period of a couple of weeks (while her married boyfriend was out of town).  We even made plans to meet, although we live several hours apart.  Suddenly my emails received no reply.  My phone calls went unanswered.  Did she die?  Is she in a coma in a hospital somewhere?  Or did her boyfriend find out about me and get angry?  The first two are unlikely, the third is more likely.  I would understand it had she taken the time to consider my invested feelings and politely explain that we could not continue our friendship.  Sure, I might have argued for it and this would have made it more difficult for her.  So, the easy way was to ignore my calls and emails, eliminating the need to deal with an unpleasant situation, eliminating the need to admit that she was controlled by her married boyfriend.  I think we all know that the easy way is not often the right way, especially when human feelings are involved.

Once in a while I look through some personal ads.  A few months ago I came across one that sounded so right that I decided to answer it.  Her ad mentioned that she did not want to post her picture on the internet since we live in a small community (although I don't really see what's wrong with admitting that one is looking for a partner.  That's a natural thing to do and online dating is pretty mainstream, but I could understand her reluctance).  She did promise that "your picture gets mine".  Well, I sent her a nice email and enclosed several pictures of myself.  No reply.  I waited a few weeks and sent her an email reminding her that she had promised to send her picture.  No reply.  I'm sure that she decided I was not for her, or perhaps she was inundated with so many responses that she simply could not reply to them all.  Whatever the reason, she had made a promise and she had not kept it.  I had gone out on a limb, introducing myself to a stranger and including my pictures, so that I was no longer a stranger to her.  I consider it rude to not reciprocate when one has promised to.  The irony is that her ad mentioned that she was sensitive and kind, that she hated rude people, etc.  My feelings were hurt.

I'm not suggesting we treat spammers and scammers with courtesy.  Their intentions are bad and I don't include interactions with them as real human interactions.  They are like a bad side effect of an otherwise good medicine.

But we need the human touch and I'm afraid we are learning to do without it.  Without it we become depressed.  We become uncivilized.  We become unkind.  It's like the odd experience of visiting New York City where one is surrounded by people, almost none of whom will look you in the eye or greet you.  It would be nice if we remembered that there are human beings with lives on the other end of our computer/cellphone/fax and the rules of human interaction are still appropriate.  People need people.

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