Is technology making us rude?

Rachel Stokes writes about technology and its impact on courtesy:

The famous etiquette guide Debrett’s recently came to a fairly damning conclusion: our ‘young people’ are selfish, antisocial and unable to hold a conversation all because of technology. Modern technology one assumes, not the wheel. I should say at this point that I am one of these people. I am of the generation that simply does not remember a time before computers, mobile phones and all the information you’d ever need at the touch of a button, and I say this because it would therefore be all too easy for this to become an age-based defensive. That would be rather boring wouldn’t it?

In fact I agree there have been ramifications that are hard to ignore, a culture of immediacy being one. We can reach people through so many different channels now that we are expected to be permanently on call. If someone doesn’t reply to a text, well then I’ll call them. Failing that I could move on to Facebook and then perhaps Twitter, Skype, WhatsApp or Snapchat, all whilst googling local carrier pigeons. The result is a ‘now’ generation which, unwittingly or not, often comes across as a lapse in manners. Despite this, I would not say young people are socially lacking any more than I’d label any other age group.

I believe a vital element of courtesy is actively accepting rather than passively tolerating change. We live in a changing society just as we always have, and I think it is important that we recognise that the face of social interaction is also shifting. The internet can now host everything from a chat with a friend to business meetings and job interviews but, believe me, failure to hold a conversation here would be as noticeable as if you were face to face in an office. Interaction via mobile or internet also demands the same polite behaviour. A missed ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ is just as rude, while checking your phone mid conversation won’t go unnoticed when you’re in front of a video camera. Many more examples could be mentioned but the point is that the appropriate behaviour is no different, only the medium of communication. As such, an inability to properly converse or an antisocial attitude are real flaws, but can we say this is due to technology and not, unfortunately, the individual?

The fact that we are the first true computer generation has not gone unnoticed in my experience and many of my age are all too aware that we are the litmus test for this unknown quantity. Somebody who’d have been considered a thinking young person in one era is just that in our present one. To my knowledge, no contraption in the world can turn somebody in to a sheep if they don’t want to be, and a thinking person, of any age, has the wit to recognise modern technology’s flaws as well as how it can be used as a force for good. In the time it takes for vile online abuse to be posted, it can also be flagged as such and shows of solace and respect can be sent to victims in the blink of an eye. Look at a prominent incident of cyber bullying and underneath all the hate are thousands of messages offering compassion. Community involvement too is often aided through the internet’s potential to reach such a vast number of people, as well as support for charities. I can say from my own experience volunteering for the local Age Concern while at university that the fundraising efforts from the student community, all from behind a computer, were staggering. Not antisocial. Not selfish.

Technology has its pros and cons, certainly. We are also, it should be highlighted, dealing with the very first generation that was born with technology rather than adapting to it having experienced a life without it. To a certain extent therefore I acknowledge that we are at a rather ‘suck it and see’ point in time. However, surely there’s no benefit or indeed logic in singling out the youth for scrutiny. I for one wasn’t aware that somebody threw their antisocial behaviour away along with their Young Person’s Railcard!

Rachel Stokes