Banishing Rude Behavior on the Internet

Has the Internet brought out the rudeness in people? According to one Christian Science Monitor opinion writer, the answer is decidedly yes.

“We’re rude and crass and unthinking on the Internet for the same reason it’s easier to blow up people when you’re piloting a drone from 6,000 miles away,” writes marketing expert and journalist Adam Hanft, who is also the coauthor of “The Dictionary of the Future.”

Think, says Hanft, of vicious comments to blogs posted by anonymous posters, trigger-happy senders of email missives, or the rise in cyberbullying by young Internet users.

Psychologists blame our poor online behavior on a condition called “moral disengagement.” Put simply – the further we are distanced from our actions, the easier it is to emotionally separate ourselves from those actions, Hanft notes.

Add to this the fact that electronic media opens the door wide to allow minor disturbances to creep into our lives and many of us are primed for a meltdown, says Hanft.

The author makes a call for the rest of us to call out boorish behavior in an effort to introduce social change, much in the way society no longer tolerates pejorative racial and ethnic epithets or inappropriate sexual comments.

“One way for Internet etiquette to become a new kind of normative activity [is] through the ostracism that comes from exhibiting embarrassing bad behavior,” argues Hanft.

He also suggests several technological interventions to help solve the rudeness problem by pointing out rude behavior before it occurs and asking us to reflect on our actions before we follow through.

One idea Hanft has would be to develop a “Write and Save” feature as part of an e-mail platform. Users could opt into the feature, which would hold emails for a set period of time before they were released. Another feature would deliver a pop-up message whenever one used an expletive in an email.

We think the author is onto something important. If you agree, vow to show better Internet etiquette today. Remember — every major societal change begins with the smallest of steps.


Having the Last Word

Social media has done much to change the way we live. Now, thanks to a new Facebook app that lets people record their final wishes, it also can affect what happens after we die.

“If I Die” is a new Facebook app that allows individuals to post a final message to their Facebook wall for loved ones to see after they’ve died – with the help of three carefully selected “trustees” who are entrusted with posting the message.

App users can record videos or write messages to be published posthumously. Upon their death, their messages may be published all at once or released according to a designated schedule.

The app was created by Wilook, an Israeli company led by Eran Alfonta, who says the app responds to a basic human need. “We all have things to say and don’t necessarily have the audience with the patience to hear us,” Alfonta told the website Mashable. “Actually, we all want to leave something behind. We all want to leave a stamp behind us.”

We at Unplug and Reconnect think the app presents a very clever way to say the things we’d like our loved ones to know. But of course, we would argue that it’s better to tell our loved ones such important things – like how much they mean to us – while we are still alive.



Game Puts Cell Phone Etiquette to Test

We  have long been proponents of putting away the cell phone at mealtimes. So naturally, we’re delighted with a new game making the rounds that challenges diners to put their cell phones away during restaurant meals . . . or else risk picking up the tab for everyone’s dinner.

According to “The Atlantic Monthly,” the game was developed by a group of friends in San Francisco who were looking for a way to enjoy conversations at dinner without the distraction of others talking and texting on their cell phones.

The rules are as follows:

  • The game starts after everyone orders
  • All parties must place their phone on the table face down
  • The first person to flip over their phone loses the game
  • The loser picks up the dinner tab
  • If no one loses, all participants pay for their share of the meal

There are, of course, opportunities for variations on this theme. For meals at home, the loser might be tasked with cleanup duty or have to forfeit the use of his or her cell phone for a set period of time.

Has cell phone usage cut into your mealtimes? Why not make a game of unplugging and reconnecting – it’s a fun way to break a not-so-fun habit!

Ringing Phone Halts Symphony Performance

Some people apparently can’t live without their smart phones. This was recently proven by an elderly gentlemen whose phone rang and rang . . . and rang, forcing the conductor to halt a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall earlier this month.

Apologizing to 2,700 concertgoers, music director and conductor Alan Gilbert explained: “Usually, when these things occur, we ignore them. But this is such an egregious disturbance that I am forced to stop.”

It seems the ringing phone, set to play a Marimba ringtone, was competing with a particularly quiet moment in the emotional 82-minute Mahler work. The phone’s owner is said to have sheepishly turned off his phone as fellow concertgoers shouted, “Throw him out!”

Now cell phones are a wonderful convenience, helping to keep us connected with loved ones, friends and colleagues. But as the symphony guest’s behavior so egregiously demonstrated, there are times — like at a performance or when sharing a meal with others — when a cell phone should be turned off so that we can tune in to the people and events that are important to us.

Unplugging at the Library

American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association, recently published a provocative thought piece by two practicing librarians who questioned whether libraries should institute tech-free zones.

What authors Amanda Wakaruk and Marc Truitt had in mind was a network of “safe harbors . . . free of external distractions of computers, cellphones, and social networking tools, allowing sustained focus and contemplation.” They referred to these tech-free spaces as “Waldon zones,” summoning the image of Thoreau, who withdrew from civilization in order to ponder and reflect upon nature at Waldon Pond.

Even reading rooms are no longer sacrosanct, Wakaruk and Truitt point out. Although these areas are supposed to be quiet zones, anyone who has used a reading room lately is probably all too aware of the intrusive sound of clacking laptop keys or muffled cell phones ringing in the background.

Yet, we at Unplug & Reconnect were heartened to read that there’s a trend in which libraries are starting to establish such tech-free zones. The authors point to Stephens College, which recently began requiring students to deposit their cell phones at the door, as one example.

To be sure, we couldn’t imagine today’s modern libraries without the wondrous technology that makes searching for information so much more efficient (remember the old Dewey Decimal System card cabinets, anyone?). But we think it’s a good idea for library patrons to have a quiet place to read and to reflect, as did Thoreau, once they’ve found the reference material the library’s search system helped them to find so effortlessly.

Time will tell whether or not a movement to unplug at the library gains any traction. The idea certainly has our vote.