Does social media make people ruder? One survey says that is the case. More than 75 percent of the people surveyed say they think people are more likely to be insulting on-line, and almost 20 percent say they have seen people end their “real” relationships after a social media spat.
I don’t know how scientific the survey is, but the results really shouldn’t surprise anyone. Incivility increases with each step we take that is farther away from face-to-face interaction. That is because it is not easy to be hurtful and insulting to someone’s face. You see their reaction, physically, and you think that you wouldn’t want someone to say something mean to your face, either. The natural tendency therefore is to tone down the rhetoric. It’s somewhat easier to be rude over the phone, but even then you can hear the hurt in the other party’s voice.
But as you move away from immediate, personal contact, the visual and verbal cues that encourage civil behavior vanish. Any employment lawyer or HR manager will tell you, with a shake of their head, that people write incredibly harsh, stupid, and ill-advised things in email messages, and the same is true of social media. People act in the heat of the moment, without reflection or any brake on their offensive impulses, thinking they are being clever when they are really just being crass. Discourtesy and angry reactions are the inevitable results.
Social media has a lot of advantages as a means of keeping in touch with people, but it also provides a ready mechanism for thoughtlessness on a large scale. We’d all be better served if we paused before hitting the “post” button and considered how wounding our words might be.
Whenever you travel by plane, you’re inevitably going to be introduced to certain personality types that make air travel so . . . interesting. Here are three that I experienced in my recent journeys:
The Hummer. On one flight I sat next to a man who hummed constantly. I’m sure he wasn’t aware he was doing it, and he probably also wasn’t aware that he couldn’t carry a tune in a sealed Tupperware container. His dissonant humming — what song was it, for God’s sake? — quickly became as annoying as the buzzing of a persistent fly that ignores repeated swatting attempts. I debated whether it would be polite to ask him, through gritted teeth, to please stop humming. Fortunately, he fell asleep. Never were snores so welcome!
Blockers. Blockers are those distasteful folks who, as soon as the plane arrives at the gate, spring from their seats and consciously block the other side of the aisle as they remove their luggage from the overhead bins. If you wait politely for them to move aside so you can get out and get your bags, some do — but more often these selfish turds will put their luggage down in the aisle and expand their blocking zone. On one flight a female blocker had her roller bag extended behind her, blocking two rows, and was talking loudly on her cell phone to boot. From the murderous looks of fellow passengers, I’m confident I was not the only person to conclude that the woman was a misanthropic, self-important jerk who, in any just world, would suffer an embarrassing, ego-puncturing pratfall as she exited the plane.
Baggage Wranglers. Baggage wranglers waddle onto the plane overloaded with carry-on materials. They blithely ignore the “two carry-on items” rule — the most unenforced rule in the history of the world — and thrash down the aisle, bags banging against headrests and roller bags jamming against seats. If you are in an aisle seat, beware: baggage wranglers are oblivious to your existence as they search for precious overhead space to store one of their 50 carry-on items. My knees and shoulders were clouted repeatedly by over-stuffed gym bags, full-to-bursting plastic sacks, and laptop cases during the boarding process for my flights, without a single apology from the clods carrying them.
Most Americans seem to be decent, polite people. Why do those qualities so often seem to be left behind when people travel?