In the Digital Age, Where Have Manners Gone?

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As a kid, I remember visiting my aunt’s apartment building in New York City. I always felt in awe when we would enter the gorgeous (albiet tiny) lobby of her building and head up the elevators to her floor. The main hallway had an old, industrial feel and any noise would bounce loudly from wall to ceiling. “Shh…”, my aunt would say, “please respect my neighbors. I always say, ‘if you respect others, they will respect you.'”

Reboot-01My aunt is a fantastically smart and savvy lady, and someone who I’ve always looked up to, so I took her words to heart. It is a mantra that I have lived by through the years, and one that I wish that I could say has always proved true.

Sadly, however, I can’t say that. I’ve noticed less and less respect and manners as I’ve grown up and paid more attention. It is extremely disheartening to see newer generations (including my own) become what we have become- generations of selfish, mean, and demanding people. My observations have been eating away at me, and, although I try not to be a negative person as much as possible, I would really like to start the conversation flowing on this issue. Ultimately, I would love to see a reversal in the way we think as a digitally charged world.

If you’re familiar at all with Gary Vaynerchuk, you’ve probably heard his keynotes in regards to The Thank You Economy. If you haven’t, or you need a refresher, here is a short video in which Gary explains “Small Town Rules” and “Context versus Content”. [Editor’s Note: sadly, the video I reference here was taken down. There’s plenty of amazing Gary Vaynerchuk sound bites available about there on the web – I suggest giving him a Google.]

To paraphrase, after living through the cold, hard, large corporation era of the past few decades, technology is bringing us full circle to an era when businesses will need to pay closer attention to the customer in the same way that small town mom-and-pop shops did back in the 1950s. Please keep in mind this idea as you read on.

Now, here are some of the issues that I’ve come across:

Common manners no longer exist

When was the last time you truly heard someone say “thank you” and actually mean it? Do we even remember what the word please actually means? Remember what it was like when people were quiet in the hallway of a communal apartment building because they wanted to respect their neighbors?

I’ve been living in apartment buildings since I graduated college, and the experience has been harrowing and exhausting due to neighbors and roommates alone. Since when is it okay to play an amped guitar or a drumset when you have paper thin walls?

Or online- I’m tired of watching people try to gain more attention by out-shocking others. Raunch and rudeness are rampant.

Today, I greeted Monday by having a middle-aged business man scream serious profanities at me in my parking garage because, after he almost hit me head on because I couldn’t see him coming up around a turn, I asked him to turn his lights on as required by the parking garage in order to avoid those situations. I was promptly told to “mind my own f-ing business and get the f- out of here.” Why? Because I wasn’t sure if the guy knew his lights weren’t on and I was trying to help him avoid another almost collision.

As a person, this bugs me, but as a personal business, this infuriates me. Everything you do is constantly being watched nowadays- it’s scary, but it’s a fact. Don’t be an a-hole, because if you do, it will come back around. You aren’t just a part of McDonald’s, or the law firm, or whoever signs your pay checks nowadays. Everyone of us is a personal brand, working for ourselves in our online lives. If I do something today that gets a complaint on Facebook which ends up getting me fired from McDonald’s, my personal brand is shot. Do NOT think you are exempt from this. I wish I knew where that guy worked at, so I could formally lodge a complaint with them. Next time, I’ll take out my phone and snap a picture or, even better, take some video, which quickly can be uploaded online and put through facial detection. I’m sure businessman’s company would not look too kindly on his actions.

Everyone is entitled

My parents worked hard (and their parents worked hard) so that I could have everything that I wanted growing up. I”m lucky for that- and I know it. As an adult, I’ve worked hard myself, trying to do what I admired so much about in my parents.

Unfortunately, though, I find myself in the minority. With the resources that we have at our fingertips, our generation can (and in some ways, is) doing fantastic things. Most, however, become complacent, relying on the technology to do the work for them, or give up before even trying. In a world that should be full of can-do’s and excitement, I see complaint after complaint after compliant pop up on Twitter. In that negative space time, you could have been doing something to better yourself. We’re all guilty of this at some point or another- how can you not be? I’m not saying to stop being human, but I’m saying to start thinking more about yourself and your persona. Are you really entitled to push past everyone to be first on the bus? Are you really entitled to say that terrible thing about someone online? Are you really entitled to call me names because I can’t spare you the change out of my pocket that I’ve worked hard to earn and am about to scrounge together to just be able to pay for my roof over my head? Believe me- I’d share if I could.

Everyone is an expert

In small towns, you need experts: a doctor, a butcher, a baker, et cetera. This person is the single entity who can perform their task- the guru, the well practiced craftsman, and the only one who you would trust with your life, your meat or your bread.

Online, however, we are all a community of experts (credentials not necessary). It’s a blessing and a curse- the ease in which information can be obtained is stellar when in a bind, but it has gotten to the point where there are a lot of people out there touting their expertise when it is non-existent. The rise of the “140 character expert” has all but stopped me in my tracks sometimes. Again, just because you say something in an authoritative way doesn’t mean you are an expert. This category ties into the “entitled” issue as well- people don’t want to work for their expertise anymore.

I, for one, however, am much more proud of my knowledge when I know that it is actually true and factual, than when I’m unsure of myself and easily refuted. Also, I’d never call myself an expert.

One other (huge) part of this issue is the death of the debate. Just as with too many cooks in the kitchen, too many experts with varying views on a subject, and one would expect a debate. However, crossing “expertise” with lazy “entitlement” equals no room for debate.

Own what you do, and if you wish to be an expert at something, do yourself a favor and do the research. Take the time to become well versed in what you are being authoritative about. There was a time when people could just write something on the internet and it was taken as law. Now, however, facts can quickly be checked and verified; mistakes refuted. Be ready for the debate, which will in turn, make you ready to grow.

Friends are not necessary

This one is a tough and touchy category. When we have instant access to everything that our “friends” are doing, (and I say “friends” to include people we see in person and people we are in contact with only via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Linked In, etc,) we rely more upon these social networks to update us on our friends lives than we do on our friends themselves.

“Oh, Becky must be on vacation, since she just auto-pushed her Foursquare Disney check-in to Facebook.”

The need to pick up the phone and physically hear that person’s voice or to actually go and pay them a visit no longer exists. We are a generation of constant contact through a metal machine.

Has that loss of personal social skills hindered our effectiveness as business people? Is our lack of manners being compacted by the fact that we are not used to person on person interactions anymore, but person on machine? Have we lost all inhibitions when it comes to social interaction, leading to situations that are not conducive for our reputation on a business level?

No one can choose or hide

This is a huge thing for me: with the steady and exponential rise of what technology can do, comes the steady and exponential loss of what you can do in private. What this translates to, in a certain way, is the loss of choice.

For example: If I choose to stop following someone because I’m not interested in what they have to say, they are offended.

It is a huge deal to a lot of people that they have everyone’s online approval, and that everyone should follow them. If someone unfollows you, it is not the end of the world. It should make you step back for a moment and ask yourself why the person did that. Was I tweeting a lot about a topic they weren’t interested in? Did I accidentally fill my feed with Pinterest pins that I didn’t know were pushing to Twitter? Use that to evaluate what you are doing, but if you, in your mind, are confident with what you are posting, don’t sweat the small stuff.

The great thing about social media is that we are the controller of our own content. If you don’t want to follow me, don’t choose to follow me. Please don’t give me a lesson on how you think I should use my own feed. It’s all about choice. If I’m not paying you for your advice, I don’t want it.

On the same token, be aware of what people around you are saying. Very recently, social media has become more and more of a one way street, even on a personal level. Don’t just talk, listen, and be aware of what is happening around you. Again, you may think your personal persona online has nothing to do with your business persona, but it most certainly does. The line has been blurred, my friends, and it is just getting fuzzier.

Everything must be instantaneous

Lastly, just because I have not answered your tweet within five minutes of you tweeting at me, does not mean that I am a terrible person who is purposefully ignoring your question. Remember when you went to dinner and didn’t have your smart phone out on the table? Remember what it was like when you ate a meal without checking in to the restaurant, taking a picture of the meal, pushing it through to all ten of the social media sites you were on, each with a different message including your dinner date, and then waiting while your date checked all of his or her notifications to see what you wrote about them?

Again, it is fantastic how quickly we can disseminate information with our online followers and catalog the things that we are doing. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t live as well. Sometimes, it is okay to keep the phone in your purse or even leave it at home.

While the online personal persona is getting more and more mixed with the business persona, it’s important to keep some of your personal self private, for your sanity’s sake, and for ours.

To get back to Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Small Town Rules” and how this fits into my rantings above: Gary’s a smart man, and I agree with him, but I think we need to go even further than that. In an age where anyone can start a business or blog and everyone is an expert, I think we all, as people AND businesses, need to brush up on our manners. Speaking as a freelancer, who works under my own name, as well as a small business owner, it’s not just going to benefit corporations to work on their context. Even if you are currently a participant in the “Small Town Rules”, what is going to set you apart from the big guys then once they’ve followed suit?

It is amazing how quickly and accurately we can be in touch with people around the world today, and it’s only going to get quicker, with better quality and with an online shop attached to the window that allows us to one-click purchase the brand that our video chat friend just mentioned in passing. Are you ready for that kind of commitment? I know I am.

Let’s do this.


What are your thoughts on Manners in the Digital Age? Am I just ranting? Did I miss something? Are we fine the way we are? Shout out in the comment below, or join in conversations on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Thanks for reading!

About Stevie Caldarola

Stevie Caldarola is a freelance graphic designer, writer & editor, photographer, multimedia artist and lighting designer.

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  1. bobbi
    February 27, 2012 at 11:26 am

    i am with you ALL the way on this….it seems people forget the small things – thanks yous, please, holding doors… doesn’t matter who does the matters that you dont slam it on the person behind you!!!!!! technology is GREAT – sometimes. We find we have to inte3ract less with real human beings and when we do, we seem to have less patience. Humans arent the internet….not as fast to reply, and certainly we don’t know everything….but its fun to learn by experience, not just read Wikipeadia (sp?) sorry i’m not going to look it up!!!
    treat others as you want to be treated…that’s my mantra!

    • February 27, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      @bobbi: Yes, exactly! I’d say it’s more, humans are not computers or machines. We have emotions. You can cuss at a computer and it will not be upset. However, you cuss into a computer aimed at another human being, and that person will feel it.

  2. Sara
    February 27, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    I just have to say, as a Detroit living in “small towns” for 8 years, a lot of the “respect” cultivated in “small towns” is fake.

    I am all for thanking people and meaning it, and having manners. This I must say for certain.

    But calling to mind “small towns”, where, in reality, “bless her heart” means “that dumb f*ck”, and people are reviled just because they didn’t bring flowers in an empty gesture/tradition when true graciousness is ignored, reminds me of people calling to mind “Leave it to Beaver” as a true representative of the fifties.

    So I totally get the “manners rule!” thing, but I agree that we need to look past the “Small Town” ideal: we need to bed truly grateful, and we need to recognize true gratitude, even when it doesn’t reflect how people have traditionally shown gratitude 🙂

    • Stevie Caldarola
      February 27, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      @Sara: I totally get what you mean, Sara. I think what Gary really means behind the “Small Town” rules is less the fact of being polite to everyone, but more the fact of that everyone knows your business. In other words, everything you do is on display to be judged by others.

      What I’m morphing that into on a personal level is that we should all watch our manners more because we are constantly on display in that “Small Town” sort of way, even when we live in big cities surrounded by people we don’t know on a face to face basis.

      Does that make sense?

  3. Annikakes
    February 28, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    It seems the more ways we have to communicate, the less we do. Remember when you used to make plans to meet someone at 3pm? There were no phones to say you were running late. Everyone showed up at 3pm. Occasionally you had to wait for someone, and wait you did because you knew they couldn’t reach you. It seems that today people think it is fine to be late simply because they texted to let you know. Having the technology to let someone know is not an excuse for not being punctual, but it seems to have become the default setting.

    While I’ve found Facebook a useful tool for keeping in touch with those back home when I moved countries, it has certainly changed how people define the word ‘Friend’. Within 5 minutes of meeting someone and having a 2 minute conversation, they have found you and tried to friend you on FB. Do you really want to know my life after 2 minutes, or do you just want to add to your ‘friend’ tally?

    I remember when I moved to San Francisco from the Midwest and had massive culture shock. My theory as to why they are so different: When the Midwest was settled, you had to help your neighbour if you wanted to survive. People needed each other. When San Francisco was settled, it was the Gold Rush. People wanted to get their share, and yours too. I think those “ideals” stuck with the towns and impact the attitudes of those living there even today. Then again, I could be talking rubbish. 🙂

    Anyway, I am rambling. Thank you for a well constructed, well thought out post which echoes so many of the thoughts in my own head.

    • Stevie Caldarola
      February 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      @Annikakes: Thanks for adding your thoughts, Annikakes! I totally get what you’re saying. Thanks very much for reading and being a part of the conversation 🙂

  4. Katie
    February 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Oh goodness, yes! While I am sometimes guilty of having my phone out while at dinner with friends, I try to keep it to a minimum and usually I’m waiting for a person meeting me there to contact me. But I put it away and focus on the people I’m spending time with.

    I understand the unfollow and unfriend in the online life doesn’t mean that someone can’t stand me, just online. I have friends who we only interact in person and on purpose.

    But then again, I’ve been a moderator on more than one messageboard and have seen the good and bad side of what people can do hiding behind anonymity.

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