The Bitch Slap: Breeding a Culture of Lazy and Rude

bitch slap lazy rudeI’m 39-years-old. I remember scratching-out writing practice exercises on Big Chief paper tablets that always seemed fit to rip out from under your pencil tip at the exact moment you could properly create a letter Q. I remember the day my mother came home with our first Atari computer (you know, the one without actual keys – it was a giant touch pad that never worked right after the first month). The brick that was our first modem? I remember getting reamed when it accidentally crashed to the floor while my brother and I were playing the classic text-based Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game on our brand-new Commodore 64.

And I’m acknowledging that the men reading this post right now either have a hard on or are utterly repulsed by my most prominent childhood memories.

I also remember the day I got my first email address. It was 1998 – I’d just fallen in love with the man who would become my second husband. An entirely lovely man named Scot – a Naval officer stationed in Japan. He was headed back to Japan and I wanted a way to stay in touch. He suggested email.

Email? Shit. I didn’t really know what it was. So I called my mom and asked her: How do I get an email address? PRESTO! My mother to the rescue (she’s a career senior systems analyst and has built every computer I’ve ever owned up until I defected to The Dark Side aka Apple products in 2010). I was set up with a Hotmail address in no time and was communicating over thousands of miles with the man I loved. Sickeningly sweet, yet needs must and this was my first foray into the digital communication age.

Hello, 2012

Today, I live in a digital world. I’m tethered to  , plugged into Twitter and Facebook. I think Path’s UI is so sexy that I’d be willing to give it a handjob if it were remotely possible. I’ve got folks on LinkedIn, three email accounts, and a PO box that only gets the good stuff: checks from clients and my subscriptions to Rolling Stone and Entrepreneur Magazines.

Back in December, I took issue with the way a few of my friends (actual friends – not imagines digital ones) were conducting discourse on my personal Facebook profile. That incident led to a jettisoning of over 240 people from my “friends” list. And this week, my friend Merredith and readers Annie and Brian from my Facebook fan page have reinforced something I’ve been feeling for quite some time: through all of this digital communication, we’re breeding a culture of lazy and rude.

And it’s time for a slap.

It’s Apalling

The way we communicate these days – and the vehicles we choose to deliver certain messages even moreso. Back when I published the post that got Facebook to rate-limit my hosting company aka Is Facebook Hiding Your Messages? , the comments section was filled with tales from people who had received Facebook messages informing them that a relative or friend had died. Just yesterday, a long-time reader shared that his two-year girlfriend decided that a Facebook message was the most appropriate way to break-up with him (and I know that’s not the first time).

Fucking seriously?

While I understand that we all don’t have everyone’s phone number, there are certain events in this life that warrant a bit more emotional commitment (and balls, quite frankly) to deliver than a Facebook message. Or even a text for that matter. Jesus on toast – where do I begin with the text messaging?

The Wall Our Fingers Built

What better excuse have we as a culture had to unplug from the emotional aspects of human interaction than the rise of text messaging? While inarguably convenient for sharing short, concise messages, I’ll just offer this example for the complete detachment of onus – thanks to text messaging.

Back in November and December, I’d gone on a few dates with someone whose company I enjoyed. Fun, intelligent, attractive – yet seemingly completely incapable (or unwilling) to pick up the phone. The day after a rather awkward lunch date where I felt like I’d been crammed into an opening in his schedule as opposed to someone that was a pleasure to make time for (it ended up being my birthday, coincidentally), I received a three-window text message from him explaining that he thinks I’m swell but just not what he’s looking for in a relationship but he’d be more than happy to accompany me as a date to any professional functions I might need to attend that I felt might interest him (blah-blah-blah).

First off, there’s no arguing that we shared the same sentiment.

Secondly, it took him three windows on my iPhone to explain this to me.

Third, that text was sent to my phone number.

Finally, we won’t go into the skewed logic that given this display of failure to engage that I would even consider him as someone with whom I’d care to present as some sort of partner in public – but hey…thanks for taking pity on a single gal.

When did we forget that there are human beings on the other end of the messages that our fingers so furiously type on impossibly small screens on device with capabilities of similar impossibilities?

I feel that a significant portion of what’s going wrong in this world is a byproduct of what we’ve come to accept as acceptable in the realm of communication.

I’m Growing Detachment in My Digital Laboratory – Care to Step Inside?

There’s an exchange from a favorite feel-good movie of mine, You’ve Got Mail, that sums it up best.

Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal.

Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?

Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.

Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

Personal. Communication between human beings – especially between ones whom we consider friends, lovers, and treasured colleagues – used to be overwhelmingly personal. Folks had to sit down and write letters. Pick up the phone. God forbid, drop by a friend’s house with a bottle of scotch or a bundt cake when the shit had really hit the fan. Our current age of digital communication has somehow granted permission (and falsely) for us to treat everyone with the same casual disregard and borderline contempt as the jackass on the sidewalk in front of us who doesn’t understand that we’re trying to get somewhere and can’t seem to step it up a notch.

And that’s no way to treat people.

We’re continuously cultivating a garden of detachment through all of these digital means of communication. We’ve become entirely lazy when it comes to the emotional commitment it takes to cultivate relationships (of any sort) and instead, accepted that sending a text/email/Facebook message is an appropriate way to develop a connection – and at our worst, unplug completely.

What happened to the adolescent anticipation we felt waiting for the phone to ring? Where did we lose the excitement we felt when we saw the flag down on the mailbox which told us we could run outside to see what stamped-and-canceled treasures lay inside? But more importantly, what happened to the stark honesty it takes to use our voices and share what needs sharing – over the phone or (god forbid) in person?

So Let’s Talk About Facebook For a Moment, Shall We?

It’s an election year. Lines have been drawn in the sand and friends and foes alike aren’t too ashamed of spouting off on what they think and feel. But when did Facebook’s invitation to Write something become license for assholian behavior of incomprehensible levels?

I’ll say that it has a lot to do with the total perversion of our collective definition of “friend.”

On my Facebook fan page and blog comments alike – I have but one rule: you can say whatever you feel needs saying and in the vernacular of your choice, but you will do it with respect, goddammit.

And we need a severe infusion of Aretha Franklin up in this joint, because R-E-S-P-E-C-T has gone right out the window by and large in the Land of Facebook.

The Land of Facebook isn’t some mythical place where we can say whatever the fuck we want on other people’s walls without consequence. Facebook is a tool that supposed to help us develop relationships with more people than we ever thought possible. And there’s a reason that our connections on our personal pages are called “friends.” We’ve forgotten that the audience on Facebook is vast – and that most of the time when interacting with friends, we’re putting our thoughts up for review to their audience not ours. Stop and think for one frog’s fine ass hair-sized moment whether you’re acting like a dick.

Facebook doesn’t offer anyone a cloak of invisibility. Start conducting yourself as if the people who were seeing the shit you post and spew were standing right in front of you – and were able to throttle you (or even hug you). There is nothing I post on my personal OR fan page that I wouldn’t say live – and that’s because that while RedheadWriting might be part persona, I know that people keep coming back to read for the person behind her.

There’s a person behind every word you see on Facebook. Including you. And there’s no excuse for the lack of respect that’s plaguing the walls and pages across this great digital tool that’s supposed to fun – yet as of late, has become exhausting for many.

And So We Come Back to Humans…

We’re breeding this culture of lazy and rude – each of us play a role. We continue the email thread, we reply to the text message, we drop what we’re doing to reply to a Facebook thread when we should be doing shit that runs our respective businesses. We type things with knee-jerk reactions, we use language we wouldn’t use in front of someone we respect and love, and we think that people don’t have a right to be heard because we’re the letter of the law and can’t possibly be bothered with ideas other than our own.

We stare at our phones with contempt when they have the fucking audacity to ring.

What happened to the humans in all of this?

I’ve been smacked down by friends on more than one occasion for using a digital crutch to communicate – especially when the device also acted as a phone. And so today, I’m passing that smack on to you.

Things should begin by being personal – whatever they are. As even the smallest business decisions elicit an emotional response. I’ll speculate that there’s a special circle of hell that Dante would allocate to those who feel that digital communication is the best way to break up with a lover, end a business relationship, or otherwise take an arm’s length distance from the message that needs conveying.

I understand that we all communicate differently. I’m a writer, for fuck sake – this post is nearly 1900 words. Digital communication allows us to be extremely efficient in many cases and we’re endlessly frustrated when the batteries in our phones and laptops die, putting a crimp in our nonstop pursuit of productivity.

But never forget – with all of the blessings and mind-blowing innovations of digital technology that humans eventually run out of batteries, too.

And wouldn’t it be especially splendid if, when that time came, we felt that we’d used our own batteries to plug into the people who matter most in our lives with every ounce of energy we had, instead of being lazy and letting technology create our memories for us?

You’ve been slapped.

60 comments
kelleykakes
kelleykakes

This was fabulous.  I'm glad I finally found it as I frequently spout off around my house about how everyone would collapse in a heap of quivering jello should we lose our internet connection.  I have a love/hate relationship with social networking, as it's brought new business my way, but it's also allowed complete strangers write some really stupid shit on my business page wall.  I was recently flamed for stating that I didn't grasp how people think it's okay to undermine someone's livelihood and business via forums and social media... that it is commonplace to treat a complete stranger with rudeness and disrespect.  I got flamed for that.  It made me feel ooky and like I had done something wrong.  I actually found myself apologizing to this person I did not know.  In turn, she explained that I seemed like a nice person, but she was just having a really bad day.  So her bad day became my public shame.

Jim Raffel
Jim Raffel

Yep, you made me laugh, realize I need to look at Path, and of course made me think damnit.

Jaime
Jaime

I agree with everything you've said here.  I've taken a huge step back from Facebook in the past few months because I don't want it to be everyone's primary way to contact me (and let's be honest, it's also because I stopped playing FB games).  When my sister is messaging me instead of calling me about important things, something is wrong.  So I deleted over a hundred people that I don't talk to and don't even care about, I'm invisible to chat on the 1-2 times a day I actually log into my personal account rather than my blogging page profile, and I don't hold lengthy conversations there with people that have the ability to call me. This is a really honest bitch slap, and I commend you.  :D

James Johnson
James Johnson

I'm late to the party with my response, but damn girl, you bitch slapped me right outta my home and into face-to-face time with my friends and fam this weekend...thanks for that.  btw - you're right about the way people respond in social media tools being a form of cowardice--It's just another way to wear a hood and spout hatred.

Lydia
Lydia

I just visited a page linked from "Shit My Dad Says," and the old man had some pearls of wisdom pretty complementary to your message, regarding confrontation and how the next generation of world leaders will be so well-versed at spewing venom from the safety of their play rooms that they won't be able to handle personal confrontation whatsoever.  Here's the post, if you have a minute: http://www.funnyordie.com/articles/322261cd73/why-internet-commenters-will-eventually-end-the-world

Bill Dorman
Bill Dorman

Do you feel better now? Glad you got that off your chest?..........:) Social is a great big world and now everybody is playing. It's no different than real life, only now the people who were socially awkward or unacceptable have a somewhat anonymous digital platform to work from.  Social is the easy way out; but yes, pick up the damn phone. 

BibliophileGirl
BibliophileGirl

I've been wondering the same thing about rudeness (especially via Facebook) over the last few years. I have been sent scathing (scathing, I tell you) emails and Facebook messages over stuff that in person...these people would likely not have had the balls to be so rude to my face. But man, put them behind a keyboard and watch the fuck out. You've Got Mail is one of my favorite movies of all time. (I know, it's books. I'm transparent, what can I say?)  That exchange between Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelley is my favorite in the movie.  Maybe I'm a sap, but I like considering that there is a person on the other end of whatever communication I choose to send out. I like to think that I would want to show respect enough to someone to tell them what I think without being rude. I believe in the idea that if I'm not rude and nasty to people...they MIGHT actually...*gasp* HEAR WHAT I HAVE TO SAY.  Shocking, right?

Amy Gosch
Amy Gosch

As someone who is uncomfortable talking to people in person or over the phone, being able to text or email or IM has been a godsend (I can look over what I'm saying before the person gets it...I don't do well with 'streaming live' type of talk).  However...as much as I dislike it, there are most definitely times when in-person or over the phone is much more appropriate.  And I suck it up and do it. My brother's over in Africa with the Navy, and being able to Skype with him or talk over the phone has been invaluable.  It's not the same with email.  And when my grandmother died, my mom and sister actually drove up to Boulder to tell me, rather than text (my sister's preferred method of communication) or call.  I can't imagine finding out anything like that via Facebook (or even email, unless there was absolutely no other option). There's a time and place for everything.  And people have been blurring those lines, sadly.

Sherree W.
Sherree W.

As always, spot on. How'd you like to find out one of your parents passed away...on Facebook? Yep, that's what happened to my husband. Talk about the misuse of digital communication. Seriously, who doesn't pick up a phone for something like this?  I miss chatting with friends on the phone - it seems to be passe' now. If I want to find them and "chat," I have to go to Facebook. Truly sad. I can't tell you how many blog posts I have sitting in my "drafts" that are all about the snark, nastiness, and all the other stuff that's been happening on online over the past year.  You said it so much better than I ever could (*deleting them now*). You rock (and I'm glad you've recovered from the "plague").

Carole
Carole

Agree with every word you said (hate texting, hate FB), but there is an upside to technology as well. Because of Skype, I am able to see and talk to my sister in Canada, and my 90 year old mother and other relatives in England. It still kind of blows my mind every time I do it. But I absolutely agree with the person who tells people to email her, rather than post stuff on her FB page. I check FB maybe once every two or three months and I'm still not sure if, when I reply, my message just goes to the person or to the entire world.

Michele Bunn
Michele Bunn

I felt that the debaters could have used some RESPECT last evening as well.  And whatever happened to MANNERS - saying excuse me, please, thank you, etc.  Great posting Erika I have shared it with an many people as I can...

thatdamnredhead
thatdamnredhead

Word.  I recently read this book that touches on all this and more. If you haven't picked up Shelly Turkel's "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other," I highly recommend it -- right up your alley. :)

JosephRatliff
JosephRatliff

Was Grandpa right when he said: "If you don't have anything nice to say... don't say it." So, there begs the question answered by this FANTASTIC article... "Did the Internet invoke some magical powers that allow people to defy common boundaries when it comes to treating other people with a basic level of respect?" My answer:  Nope.  You still need to be courteous to your fellow people on a basic level. Spitting out bile and hatred (e.g. being rude) on any media form is not necessary...you're working too hard to get your point across. ;)

Janine
Janine

Now imagine you (OK, I) refuse to have a Facebook account, and rarely use your cellphone. I have friends who are absolutely stymied about how to communicate with me. I do read email, and I do listen to voice mail. I also show up at coffee shops. I go for hikes. I eat lunch. I'm not old enough to be this obsolete. Janine

Grant Griffiths
Grant Griffiths

Erika, If I had your phone number I would tell you this in person. Or as in person as a phone call gets.   Its about time someone somewhere finally said just what you said.   For the sake of humanity, it is about time we put down the smartphones, iPhones, computers and the like and actually connect once again with each other.   We are doomed if we don't.

Dave Watts
Dave Watts

A wonderful reminder for everyone.  I like the personal touch in all my relationships but I do get carried away in my SocMed relationships and say things I wouldn't in person.  I appreciate the Slap today.  And to all of my Republican friends who I offended when I called Newt Gingrich a walking Pillsbury Dough Boy turd, I apologize.

SL Clark
SL Clark

Sing it sister! Everyone can be a teenager for decades, texting it in. Don't laugh, Gramps here lives with one and *shudders* seeing the trajectory and behavioral similarities. Technology allows humans emotional distance when none is best. Just this week, events have caused me to deeply evaluate what "don't be evil" means in a world capable of such growing emotional disconnect. Heh, no matter, my digital assistant can beat up your 5th grader.

Jim Brochowski
Jim Brochowski

Yes and No. Yes, Face to face communication is always best. I prefer a good conversation, (preferably with a beverage) over a text / chat box anytime, even when meeting new folks. But - Not all people are really comfortable with that, and they find it easier to at least get to know the new folks online, as it were. Yes, any medium that doesn't involve actually hearing each other's voices is absolutely the wrong way to break up with someone. (Disclaimer - my daughter's boy friend just did this to her last night. Can't wait to see that kid  at the next school function.) Yes, civility should always reign supreme. What happened to you on your Facebook Wall was completely uncalled for. Your friends, your real true friends should know when and where to draw the line and where your walls of decorum stand. However, and this is where I stand up and disagree completely. The phone as it is traditionally used S U C K S. People, even my older, (in their 60s) relatives do not know how to use the phone. They forget things like: It would be a good idea to ask if the person you are calling has a minute to talk, i.e. state the purpose of your call and ask me if I have time to sit, stand, walk around with a phone stuck to my ear. Most folks also take about 20 minutes, (okay a slight exaggeration) to say goodbye, or they don't say goodbye at all and make you feel rude for actually having to end the call. Take care, See you later, Good bye, all the best, etc... do not need to be accompanied by 75 addendums (sp) and Oh I forgot to tell you's and so on. Make the call, state your purpose, say goodbye, hangup. People can't do that. I have an Uncle who I am forced to send to voice mail every time because talking to him is a 1/2 hour long conversation no matter what the topic is. Dinner plans? 1/2 hour. Wills and Trusts? 1/2 hour or more. It's crazy. I'll agree with all the rest, but until folks remember how to talk on the phone that's gotta be the last resort. Finally, I do think the grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and such should all get shout outs if they have at least recognized that the way to talk to their kids, grandkids, etc... and reach them on their level is to get on Facebook, or Twitter, learn to text etc... You might call those kids lazy and rude, but they are engaged with each other, with their culture. At my house, we've got one set of grandparents who get it, and one that doesn't. Guess which set my kids are actually eager to see and talk to in person when they visit.  Just sayin' As usual, a very thoughtful, compelling piece. Thanks.

@keithprivette
@keithprivette

Awwww yes I get to duck on this bitch slap!!!! #yearof52calls, you saw that post right? Hopefully you did. Also I sitting next to you with a paddle in the boat rowing with you. I am completely appalled at the way people treat each other online. Especially the things said to woman.  It is good to have opinions, feelings, points of view, but do it in a way that is turns into a constructive discussion or even a debate.  Oh that is right that takes work!  Great post as always Erika.  Like in the movie Billy Madison "Boy, am I glad I called that guy!"

Soulati
Soulati

I think this is my first time commenting; you've raised my hackles enough to respond. The other night on Facebook I asked innocently, "Is anyone watching the State of the Union?" You woulda thunk I asked people to burn me with the flag; my stream exploded with nasty expletives and rants against the current administration which went on for several days. I never responded; I just watched in dismay and wondered how that was OK to happen regardless of my political views? On Twitter, I said, again, innocently, "Mrs. O looks radiant in her blue gown (and then i wondered if blue was Republican and red was Democrat and was she bridging the aisle?)." One woman, I'm still agog, said, "Yeah, so is a pile of horse dung when the sun shines on it." Really, dude? Not to mention some other choice remarks that had me reeling in shock. No wonder our country is divided when neutral statements are grounds for negative and rude rants against fellow citizens and community members. What's the action plan? Delete 240 friends? Erase all Twitter followers back to zero? Climb under a rock and hope a new president gets elected without all of us killing one another? At any rate, AMEN, sistah.

Cendrine Marrouat
Cendrine Marrouat

While I think you could have used a different kind of language (because it defeats the purpose of your article in a way), I agree with you on everything. We have become a culture of lazy and rude folks.  I personally don't add people I don't know as friends on Facebook and will always filter the c.... I read. As a journalist, I constantly have to remind people to contact me through emails. I don't deal with wall messages or people who do not make any effort to behave professionally. And I cannot really speak on the phone, as I have hearing problems. As a result, people think I am the rude one. lol This is a great post. We need more people to realize that the legacy we will leave behind is worrying.

Scarlet
Scarlet

Beautiful. I think this is a bitch slap that will need to keep on slapping.  For whatever reason it is so easy for people to forget that the receiver of their communication has a heart and soul. Technology does bring us together but it makes it all too easy to dehumanize and invalidate the person on the other side. It's more than being lazy & rude, it's cowardice.  The internet should foster connection, truth and bravery. It's good to have reminders of that, so thanks for writing this.

Killian
Killian

Just have to say that the Siri argument thing was hilarious.  Thank you for making me laugh today.  I needed it. I taught public school special ed (middle school), and my students truly thought I was insane.  I made them say, "May I please have..." and "Thank you" in the lunch line.  If they forgot their homework, they had to look me in the face and discuss it.  If they wronged another student, they apologized personally and in writing.  And I realize that it was a group of a dozen or so kids, who thought I'd lost my mind for those requirements, but I was determined not to let the impersonal age overwhelm my life. We were "Generation X" and these kids are now "Generation Text."  It's pitiful.  I've seen the text message break ups in my own kids' worlds and find it reprehensible.  However, that being said, I will offer a slight counter with this: while the Twitters and Facebooks of today have brought in new levels of impersonal communication, it has also allowed for an expansion of it as well.  The example I offer is this: my son's friend, called Jedi, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in December after a concussion on the football field.  A few people got together and put up a Facebook page in support of him.  That page has over 900 members now, and people share photos, messages of support not just to Jedi but to his family as well.  Using a laptop, Jedi was able to see every one of them, as Duke Hospital offers free wi-fi.  Jedi died this past Friday night, and the outpouring of love and support has been phenomenal - again, not just for Jedi himself, but for his family, and even for those who are mourning him on the "outside".  Information about fundraisers to help with medical costs, visitations and funeral arrangements, all can be shared. I don't disagree that people have slipped into a realm of perceived anonymity.  There is just as much hurt that is spread on social media as love.  (See: cyber bullying)  But I guess I still have hope that people can change and realize that using the tools we have for positive means is possible. Or maybe my students were right, and I really am batshit loony.

D.T. Pennington
D.T. Pennington

I've made a point to not follow/like/friend anyone in the digital interface if neither of us have any plans or intentions of actually meeting or working together. I think this great big internet-world thing we have should be an extension of ourselves, not an alternate persona.  More than once I have claimed that one should be able to back up whatever they say online if I should happen to meet them in person. Folks swallow words really fast when they are approached in the flesh.  Perhaps a new mandate is in order: you can only reply in audio/video formats. Sure, it may take a little longer to put together a response compared to text, but wouldn't that be the point? To take more time with your response?  To actually THINK about what you're saying? 

Joanna June
Joanna June

If I had your phone number I would call you right now to thank you for this.

Jeffrey A. Pierpont
Jeffrey A. Pierpont

Here! Here! I will keep this in mind in my own digital communications. Thank you sister for the slap!

hubbit
hubbit

One of the best, most "human" posts in the history of ever.  Being 46 myself, I not only remember when the personal touch really was personal, I try to keep it alive when and where I can.  Times and situations arise where one really needs to send solid, tangible evidence that one was thinking of someone. Social media messages really don't convey that, no matter how well--intended.

Laura England-Biggs
Laura England-Biggs

Awesome, Erika.  You nailed the topic once again. I do use txt a lot with my husband & my BFF across the country, guilty.  When it's Important Stuff, the phone gets to perform its original function - actual voice-to-voice contact.  Sometimes, I even get up and talk to the people I work with instead of emailing a response or calling the extension - especially when it's not good news or easy explanations.  Does worlds of good. Seems like a Duh moment but guess not...  Sad, really.

Annie Sisk
Annie Sisk

Yes, damn it. YES. And thank you.