Rudeness is running rampant, while nobody seems to care and it appears that technology is the cause. Has common decency taken a back seat to "whatever”?

Three out of five people say someone is rude to them on social media more than once a month. VitalSmarts conducted a survey of 2,698 people, and 78 percent of those reported an increase of rudeness in the virtual world as opposed to face to face. Also, one in five stopped socializing with a rude individual and/or un-friended someone because of a virtual argument. Are we becoming too sensitive, or is technology enabling everyone to embrace their inner hater? I think it’s the latter.

Sitting in front of a computer, smartphone or tablet allows us to ignore social etiquette without being held accountable. Rudeness and meanness can be accomplished anywhere, anytime and to anyone -- whether family, friends, co-workers or total strangers -- with the help of modern technology. There are some who take pride in expressing bad behavior. They think cyberspace gives them the freedom to say whatever they want when, in reality, it just offers protection for a coward's attack. After all in the real world if you verbally attacked someone face to face the way many do online, you’d be looking at a confrontation at best; perhaps even a fight.

For some, technology has created the ability to never just say “no." Before the telephone (100 years ago, I know) the only way to ask for something was to meet face-to-face. If you didn't want to do it, then you had to say “no” and give a reason -- or at least put some effort into thinking up a good lie. Either way, you were accountable for your decision. This didn’t change much with the telephone before caller ID and voicemail -- you still had to talk to the person. Today, if you don’t want to do something, be it work, a date or to avoid that pesky acquaintance, it's so much easier -- and so much ruder -- to simply not respond.

I did a quick unscientific survey on friends, acquaintances and patients and almost every single person I asked admitted to (at least once) not responding when they didn’t want to do something. We need a course in elementary school on high-tech etiquette, because clearly nobody has a clue as to what is appropriate.

It used to be difficult to concentrate on work because of the co-worker talking too loudly in the next cubicle. Now, instead of carefully choosing words and being tactful while looking someone in the eye and asking them to quiet down, it's so much easier to shoot them an email or text and say STFU already.

As for young people, technology has changed the nature of bullying. As I discuss in a prior blog, social media make it easy to leave nasty, public comments attacking a victim. Unlike face to face, it’s 24-7 with no respite on weekends, holidays or after school. Kids are growing up in a virtual world, where the rules of etiquette are unclear, with little guidance from adults who are just as clueless.

Then there are the out of control email comments addressed to public figures, as in this rant to sportswriter Jeff McLane, of the Philadelphia Inquirer. He caught the ire of a reader because he used the well-known nickname "Shady" when writing about NFL running back LeSean McCoy. "I mean, are you and the rest of the sport's writers so gay that you're desperate enough to try and be cool that you only can print Shady? I mean, do you or the other fags at the sports section even know what that stands for, I would love for you and the other Homo's to let us, the uninformed sport novices, know what Shady stands for!" It gets worse: "...do you even realize why black guys use nicknames? It is because when they commit crimes in the world they can't be identified so easily." Would this brainless twit have dared to say that to McCoy’s face? Never, but a coward jerk can say any repulsive thing they want when protected by online anonymity.

As for relationships, breaking up has never been easier as I discuss in Who Breaks Up On Facebook? Seventy-five percent of those born before 1975 end their relationship face-to-face, while less than 50 percent born after 1984 do the same. Breaking up used to be painful for both parties, but modern technology has solved that problem. Instead of a phone call or meeting in person to end it and explain why (which provides closure) a text is so much easier and you don’t have to give a reason- not even to yourself. There is even a user’s guide on how to break up via Facebook.

Virtual altercations have become almost a sport for many. Type and send. It's not messy because you don't have to consider the person at the other end. A social worker told the world about breaking up a family and gloated about the power she felt after having three children taken from their parents. "It was an amazing and extraordinary moment in my career”.

Why would you follow someone on Instagram just to call them ugly? My first thought is that you have no life -- but I digress. A new trend is to do just that as actress Lena Dunham has discovered with followers that leave hateful messages for her like "you're ugly" or "you're fat." For what purpose? There is no purpose except to be mean.

Author Amanda Chatel wrote about this in a blog and was promptly followed on Twitter by someone (maybe the same person, who knows?) who left messages telling her she was a "waste of space" and a "doggy face"." When she received a tweet which said she was "briandead," yes, it was misspelled, she finally blocked them.

The real question is do people just not recognize what inappropriate behavior is anymore or do they think the rules are different in cyberspace or do they just not care? I vote for the latter. The good news is that there is a new addition to the classic manners book Etiquette by Emily post which addresses proper behavior and manners in the new millennium. I doubt it’s going to be a bestseller, who has the time to worry about manners anymore? That’s soooo last century.

About the Author

Dr. Dale Archer

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and the author of Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.

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