Thursday, March 28, 2013

I Used to Write Letters, I Used to Sign My Name

Evan Selinger:

Let’s face it: Technology and etiquette have been colliding for some time now, and things have finally boiled over if the recent spate of media criticisms is anything to go by. There’s the voicemail, not to be left unless you’re “dying.” There’s the e-mail signoff that we need to “kill.” And then there’s the observation that what was once normal — like asking someone for directions — is now considered “uncivilized.”

Cyber-savvy folks are arguing for such new etiquette rules because in an information-overloaded world, time-wasting communication is not just outdated — it’s rude. But while living according to the gospel of technological efficiency and frictionless sharing is fine as a Silicon Valley innovation ethos, it makes for a downright depressing social ethic.

People like Nick Bilton over at The New York Times Bits blog argue that norms like thank-you messages can cost more in time and efficiency than they are worth. However, such etiquette norms aren’t just about efficiency: They’re actually about building thoughtful and pro-social character.

Let's look at the cast of characters involved in this "thing" (since it appears to be an official thing now): that sociopath from a couple weeks ago in the NYT, a bubblegum-popping ditz from Gawker (is that redundant?), and some jerkoff from Slate being criticized (rightly) by a writer at Wired. Not a particularly representative slice of humanity, you might say. In fact, you might suggest, as I did, that it's really more a case of young, tech-savvy, social media narcissists talking to themselves, helping to convince each other that their narrow little fraction of a world is the only one that matters.

I will say this, though, about how the times-they-are-a-changing. Long story short, yesterday I found myself with a couple hours to kill before clocking in, so I went across the street to mosey through the mall. Both the bookstores, the B. Dalton's and Waldenbooks, that used to be there were gone, of course. So was the Sam Goody's music store that I used to haunt throughout my adolescence. But I counted four cellphone kiosks, a Best Buy Mobile store, a Radio Shack which seemed to be much more phone-oriented than I ever remember them being, and a cash-for-used-cellphone depository. I almost felt like falling into step with the elderly power-walkers making their morning rounds to share stories about the good old days.