What Happened to Manners?
Today, “web to web” readily calls to mind an interlinked system of information accessible through the internet. But it also refers to the point of contact made between two people when they engage in a proper handshake (you know, the web of skin between one’s thumb and index finger). More time spent with computers and mobile devices means less time for face-to-face interaction. A consequence is a generation that could benefit from lessons in old-fashioned social skills. More and more, people need to learn how to be present—in the moment—with the people they encounter and to learn how to give others the respect they deserve.
According to Pope Francis, “The world of communication…has become an ‘environment’ for many, one in which people communicate with one another, expanding possibilities for knowledge and relationship.” A benefit of new media is the dialogue it fosters and the new relationships it facilitates. However, virtual interaction encourages the practice of anonymity, which allows us to safely express opinions and make inflammatory comments in ways that we likely wouldn’t otherwise consider. This has spawned the rise of trolls who post comments with the specific intent to provoke and harass others.
How has the nastiness we see online affected lives? Consider the disturbing trend of employees who write offensive statements and racial slurs about their customers on their receipts, and, conversely, restaurant patrons who express on their bill the same kind of vitriol about their servers. Just look at these recent examples:
—An international smoothie chain is one of the latest companies to require employees to undergo training in “inclusivity policies and best practices” after two employees scribbled disrespectful comments on customer receipts.
—An African American businessman in California sued a restaurant after discovering several of his receipts called him by different variations of a racial slur.
—And earlier this year an Indiana waitress found a gay slur on her receipt in place of a tip.
Etiquette and manners are reasonable behaviors for civility that society has agreed upon over time. Sadly, the anonymous digital environment has created new measurements for what’s acceptable. Loud talking on a phone during a show in a theater is unacceptable, and frequent texting during a formal meal in a restaurant or at Mass are frowned upon. But those behaviors pale compared to the loss of civility and respect for others when we see insults, bullying, and threats on social media impair face-to-face dynamics.
Ironically, social media—created in part to help people connect—has instead contributed to an asocial, antisocial culture. “There is the dangerous phenomenon of young people becoming ‘social hermits’ who risk alienating themselves completely from society,” Pope Francis warns.
God, our master programmer, designed us to need human interaction. No Alexa, Siri app, or Rosie Robot can compensate for or replace this relational need. When people use new media to show respect for human dignity, they can transform the world to unite into a global village in unimaginable ways! A challenge we face is to help children and each other live in a world where online activity is common and insist that only respectful communications are acceptable. If we use the new media to hide from the world or to bash people by writing things we might never say aloud, we damage ourselves and others. Let us live in the moment and let common decency prevail!