A common complaint with the modern age is that the myriad communication technologies available has cheapened human interaction and lessened civility.
Who hasn’t seen a young person with their noses to their phones, texting or playing games on them? They are obsessed, even when in public or ostensibly hanging out with friends. Instead of talking to each other and having discussions, we sum up our lives with quaint abbreviations or amusing memes.
However, our ability to connect to each other at any time also leaves us ignorant of proper social interaction. We grow casual where we should be professional. We behave glibly when serious tragedy has struck. We call out people who have done us wrong in public where it is better left in privacy.
That last one in particular is obvious to anyone who has been on social networks.
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It seems that in our mad rush to publicize every little detail in our lives, we forgot the boundaries when it comes to other people. Instead of privately discussing why “X” wronged us with X him or herself, we call X out in public, doing our best to demonize that person. We turn every minor disagreement into a major argument.
Even worse, by making these disagreements public, we drag our networks of family, friends and acquaintances in with us. We jade and color their perceptions of us and those around us with our behavior. Often, we just show them an ugly side of ourselves no one knew existed.
People make assumptions, take sides and, ultimately, many more people are hurt by events that should have only ever affected two.
Something I have observed for years has become increasingly obvious over time: the anonymity of the internet leads people to behave badly.
We can, in essence, become entirely different people online.
Whereas we might be polite in personal company, being nobodies on the internet causes us to break down much needed barriers in our behavior. We are a clean slate, able to behave as well or poorly as we please. There are no nuances in written communication that can tell us how another person truly feels or the mood they’re in.
Even if we reveal our names, our jobs, our sexual preferences, et al. online, we’re still shielded from the dynamics that develop from speaking mano-a-mano.
We forget that those people on the other side of the wires and servers are also human beings. It leads the crueler, less caring amongst us to be selfish and narcissistic. They behave like jerks and complain when it is thrown back in their faces.
Of course, our emails, text messages, cell phones, video games and whatever else you can think of have brought innumerable advantages. We can interact with people who were out of our reach just two decades ago. They can enrich our experiences in life and we should not be afraid to embrace them for their positive purposes.
At the same time, however, we should be vigilant not to lose our humanity in the process. Civility and manners are precious commodities and must be nurtured–most especially in this age of digital living.
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