Monday, July 07, 2008

Is there a connection between technology and rudeness?

I own a cell phone with a cheap pre-paid plan.

The phone stays turned off, until the rare occasion when I need to use it. I carry it for emergencies when I drive my car, or ride my bike.

I have no desire to be in instant contact with everyone else on this planet; I have managed to come this far in my life without that option.

On the other hand, I embrace the Internet; anyone can find me fairly easily and contact me by email, and many do.

It keeps me extremely busy trying to respond them all, and I sometimes fail in the attempt. Which is one of the reasons I do not need the rest of my waking hours, to be spent with a cell phone in my ear.

This is not just another "Old Man’s Lament" post about how things were better in my day. Things were not necessarily better in the old days; it is just that some of us, having lived a little longer, saw the changes take place and because of that can see both the positive and negative aspects resulting from change.

Do cell phones and the Internet make us more sociable? I think the reverse is true. It enables us to be in contact with an ever-increasing number of long distance relationships, at the expense of those closer to us.

It used to be a person would walk into a bar, order a drink, and then socialize with the bartender or others seated at the bar. Today a person walks into a bar, orders a drink, and immediately flips open a cell phone.

They become oblivious to everyone around them as they hold a long distance conversation with someone maybe sitting alone in some other bar. The person will often finish their drink, and their conversation, then leave the bar having made no verbal or even eye contact with anyone there.

Even in situations where there is an opportunity for chance encounters, they no longer happen. Two people in a Laundromat for example; in pre-cell phone times they would at least exchange a smile and a few words.

Today, chances are at least one or even both are talking on cell phones. They are too busy socializing long distance, and totally ignore each other. Completely missing the opportunity to socialize face-to-face right where they are.

Even though the Internet is my favoured medium; I am dismayed at the rudeness shown on Internet forums. If a person is rude to a stranger online simply because they can remain anonymous, is there a chance that rudeness will spill over into their every day lives? I can't see where being rude online helps a person with their social skills in interacting with others in day to day situations.

The cyclist, who posts an angry comment on an Internet forum, is just as likely to get on his bike and flip a finger at the first motorist they perceived had made a wrong move. Both the cyclist and motorist do not see a fellow human being, but some anonymous figure; much like the one on the Internet.

Much of the carnage on our roads today is caused by rude, angry people behind the steering wheel. Rude, angry cyclists are mostly a danger only to themselves. How did these people become so consumed by anger? It does seem to be a growing trend.

When I started cycling, I was fortunate that I was able to join a cycling club. There were other members of the club, older and more experienced, who taught me all I needed to know about the bicycle and the skills required to ride it.

Today, there are still such local clubs, but it seems most would prefer to go on Internet forums as their source of knowledge. The problem is the experienced people with knowledge to share do not go there because they are often treated with contempt and rudeness.

There is now a whole generation for whom there has always been an Internet, and cell phones, and there has always been rudeness. Rudeness is accepted as the norm. One time when I protested the online rudeness, I was told, “It’s an Internet forum, what do you expect?” Actually, I expected politeness, how naive of me.

Rudeness has no beneficiaries, either those dishing out the rudeness or the recipient. It makes people angry; the person being rude is angry because they see themselves as right in a situation and the other person is an idiot. And of course the recipient of the rudeness is also angry.

Just as the person on their cell phone ignores the person standing next to them, there are some who will stumble on one article I have written here, and then shoot off some angry comment dismissing the article as “BS by an arrogant SOB.” This happened just last week on Bike Forums.

If only the person, instead of responding in anger because they disagreed with my view, had taken a moment to peruse my profile, and learn a little more about me. Maybe if they had read a few more articles here, they may have actually learned something about bicycles.

By being angry and rude, they missed an opportunity to improve their knowledge, simply because they did not take the time to get to know me.

The Internet is a wonderful thing; however, it is an entity with very few rules and relies on human decency to operate smoothly. Human decency breaks down when people become detached from each other.

Could the cause of this breakdown be over use of the Internet, and other technology like cell phones? Those of us online, find the thread that attaches us is extremely fragile to begin with. People are naturally social beings, and need that personal contact.

Rudeness drives people apart; it isolates the person being rude. Are we in danger of becoming a race of rude, angry, and lonely people, with few social skills?

Hang up the phone and look at the person standing next to you. Look at the author of what you are reading on your computer screen. It is entirely possible that he is not just some “Wanker” trying to push your buttons; he may actually have something worthwhile to say.


Anonymous said...

I don't think the net (pun? - oops) social loss of the internet makes up the social gain. Cycling is naturally something of a physical activity but if you're passionate about something a bit more obscure then the internet opens up the only reasonable method of communication.

While I think face to face contact is important too we shouldn't devalue the conversation on the cell phone or internet chat.

Of course, as I post I'm watching Le Tour by myself on my computer rather than the local pub (where it wouldn't be playing here anyway ...)

Anonymous said...

I'm watching the Tour alone at home too, but I'm soooo grateful that it's being presented on OLN here in Canada -- even if I have to endure the inane commercials by this year's sponsors, especially the bicycle maker who should know that no bike is faster than any other. I guess advertisers all know that the young probably haven't developed a useful BS meter yet. It takes years of repeated disappointing experiences to perfect that :-)

But as for cellphone use, I use mine exactly how Dave uses his, and I mean exactly. Pre-paid minutes, phone on only when I happen to need it, and it's used mostly to carry in case of an emergency on my rides, drives and walks. The phone companies aren't making much money off me, that's for sure. I've been operating off the same $25 "card" I bought for my phone more than a year ago.

I really don't know where all the rudeness is coming from. It's not only on internet forums, it's everywhere, in every aspect of life. I suspect that humanity just wasn't made to be "on" all the time, without any downtime. The true origin of the 7th day of rest may be lost in the eons of pre-history, and it may have nothing to do with any deity, but it sure was nice to have at least one quiet, non-shopping, non-business day in life.

Everything is on and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a week. When you combine that with the need to be absolutely fundamental in everything which the internet and 24 hour news channels encourage, and the competition to be perfect or the best in everything at all times, I think people just crack under the pressure. Rudeness is just one symptom of it.

By the way Mr. Moulton, I don't always agree with all of your comments (the non-cycling ones), but I sure do appreciate your blog and your website. It's one of my favourite places on the internet.

Grump said...

Like you, I'm one of the dwindling minority that keeps their cell phone off, until they need it. Rudeness is slowly overtaking America (if not the rest of the world). Cell phones and internet forums just make it easier. It's my personal opinion that rudeness in increasing because the pace of life is increasing, and people just can't deal with the pace, so they retreat to their own little fortress, where they are king of creation, and everyone elses needs are not important.

Rich Gift Of Lins said...

Yes, my cell phone is always off too and in the back pocket of my cycling jersey. I didn't need it to improve my unsociable behaviour though. Cycling did that, long hours training, usually alone because there's no time for sociable rides, knackered when I get home and collapse on the sofa near comatose, unable to go out because I need to recover for tommorrow's ride. Pressing the mouse button to read the next blog in my feed is just about all I can do!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, I have to agree with "Grump" that "rudeness" is taking over.I tend to see it most in young people, but not always. I've always said "It starts in the home." How your parents raised you has much to do with your manners, (or lack of) and how you interact with others. Young people tend to follow their friends ways and manners through "peer pressure." But I have also seen grown adults in their 40s and 50s who are nothing more than assholes who think their shit doesn't stink! I am the one holdout in my group of friends and cyclists that does not own a cell phone. Granted, they are a great tool that have many uses, but I personally don't need one. What did we do before there were cell phones? I get constantly harrassed by friends for not having one because they claim they cannot get in touch of me. Well, maybe not "right now this minute." But they have a work number and a home number to call and leave a message, because they know I am probably out riding my bike if I'm not at those places. As for the rude people, they just "grew up" and were not "brought up!" The internet is wonderful and gives people a way to speak their true feelings (good or bad) without facing peers,friends and family. Treat others as you want to be treated. I can be rude too,but I like to be nice so I try to be polite internet or in person.I have no problem telling people when they are.If they have a problem with it, I tell them to learn some manners and grow up.

NoryB said...

As a long time lurker here, this most recent post has prompted me to finally leave a comment. The reason being, I couldn't agree more with what you've said.

As a suggestion for further contemplation on the influence of technology on society, I suggest picking up the book "Amusing ourselves to death" by Neil Postman. I decided to read it after hearing a short blurb by his son (Andrew Postman) on NPR. Along the same lines, he mentioned how the internet was touted as a tool that would shrink the world and allow individuals to experience new and wonderful things in their lives, and interact with individuals from all over. But really, when you come down to it, the internet allows us to interact with a plastic screen. (As I type this I'm sitting in my office ignoring my office-mate who's seated 4 feet away).

The book was written in 1984 as a response to Orwell's "1984". He puts forth some incredibly compelling arguments as to how technology has come to shape our lives to the extent that it's our apathy that will lead to our subservience, rather than "the man", as Orwell suggested. What makes it even more prophetic is the fact that it was written in 1984 before the technology revolution as we think of it today. His predictions of how technology will influence the modern day lifestyle are chillingly accurate.

But, I digress. In summary, fantastic post!

Anonymous said...


As someone who started posting on the web back when it was still the net (in 1984 coincidentally), I think the behavior you observe lately has been there all along although it does seem to be more prevalent of late. I think the anonymity of on-line communication contributes to a combined sense of "I can say anything I want without retribution" and "My opinion is as good as the next person's". Witness the comments to your post on Bike Forums. I gave up on the old Usenet groups years ago for this very reason, and it saddens but does not surprise me that it continues. The usage of "handles" or "anonymous" instead of names is just another sign of this desire to avoid attribution/retribution.

Disclaimer: I am a POB at this point, having returned to riding a bike just recently after a 30-year lay-off. I rode a lot as a kid, not at all as a younger adult, and am now trying to make up for some lost time. I read this blog and a few others to gain knowledge of bicycling from those with greater experience. We used to respect people for their experience and seek out their opinions. We used to treat their opinions as having greater worth than our own, and at least consider them as worthwhile even if they disagreed with our own. And, if we disagreed, I believe there used to be an idea of "polite disagreement" rather than ignorant and mean-spirited attacks.

I saw little politeness in any of the disagreements to your post, and quite a bit of name-calling. Given the vituperative comments by those listed as "senior members", I am slightly surprised. Perhaps "senior" means something other than what I would assume. I can't say who among your respondents has cycling experience similar to yours, but my guess is damn few.

Anyway, I appreciated the original post and the recent one. I think you fell victim to the common practice in America of thinking that showing respect for another diminishes ones own self-worth. Humility has fallen out of favor, and that's just sad. Please continue to share your opinions, I always find them insightful even if I am not in total agreement.

With Regards,

Hal Render

gazer said...

Great post!

Here in California, I'm hoping that the new hands-free cell phone law will have a good effect on driver's attentiveness. At least until everyone gets a headset (not the bike kind...)

I've commented before that I'm working on eliminating the curse words and gestures from my cycling repertoire. It working fairly well. A loud "Hey!" is usually all that is required when one encounters an oblivious driver on the road.

Todd said...

Hey Dave-

Funny you should write about this subject today.

Here's an article you might find interesting from today's LA Times.,0,6248930.story

Ed W said...

Here in Oklahoma, I've heard it said of Will Rogers that he never met a stranger. He talked to people, asked questions, and listened patiently to the answers. Most people will open up when someone shows genuine interest.

You'll meet some truly amazing people if you're willing to spend a little bit of time.

Anonymous said...

Ahh...I had thought I was the only person in the free world who didn't have a 'regular' cell phone (I carry a tracfone). I got it a few years back after a rather nasty mt bike crash. As I lay there wondering how hurt I was, I started thinking about how cold it would be that night if I was truly hurt (I ride alone often). Since that next day I've had a phone whenever I'm on the bike, road or mt. (of course, that doesn't mean I might have to claw and crawl my battered body to some high point to get any signal). I guess it's a feel-good thing.

And as to rudeness and the dwindling face to face encounters, I recall some SciFi I read in my youth...(Asimov I believe) in which society had 'evolved' to the point that people no longer had ANY face to face encounters. All communications were done via electronics. They had their robots to do all the menial stuff, and the few remaining humans just lived out their lives in isolation. Seems like we are truly headed that way with Internet and cell phones. I personally despise the phone in general...I'd rather drive (or walk or ride if possible) somewhere to ask my questions than to do it over the phone. My wife thinks it's a phobia. Could be...I do use them, but as sparingly as possible.

And Dave, if I EVER happen into a pub (if there's cask ale, count me IN!) and you are there, I PROMISE I will make eye contact and chat it up! Thats what makes pubs fun! Meeting new people and chatting!


Anonymous said...

Well done, Dave.
Many different cycle blogs have been saved to and deleted from my Favorites list over the years. I have to say that your blog, to me, has been the most consistent diet of common sense. I really enjoy reading your thoughts on these everyday matters.

Roman Holiday said...

You are right on target. There are a bunch of papers out there that support the fact that cell phones, social networking, etc. has decreased face-to-face interactions, which really affects our culture & society at large. The late Joe Strummer (of The Clash) once said, "Turn off your TV's, grab a glass of beer & go out & talk to the people on the street." Good words to live by.

Ron George said...

Just a side thought, not sure if you relate with it. I find young people like my peers reading lesser books because everything is now on the internet.

I tagged you in a game. Here's the link

lemmiwinks said...

I think the majority of rudeness on the internet can be summed up by the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

I think that people that were prone to be rude simply have new ways to be rude these days. What's more, people that are immature -- whether they are young people or old adults -- have ways to do so in an increasing number of places.

I own a cell phone, and I started using the Internet as a teenager back before there was a Web (in the days of FTP, Gopher, and Usenet). There are communities of all sorts on the Internet, just as there are in real life. There are some towns or neighborhoods where I would just not want to live, because the people there are pretentious self-involved ones, or on the other end, there is too much gang activity. And there are online forums I don't want to participate in for the same reasons.

I live in a rural area in Kansas. I have just started commuting to work 3 days a week by bicycle, a distance of 10 miles each way that involves a couple of miles on dirt or sand roads. I know of nobody else in the local community that does anything like this, and the nearest bicycle club is 50 miles away.

The Internet has been great. I have found tips from a Chicago club on bicycle commuting, including on how to make yourself presentable at work if you don't have access to showers. I have found some people on bikeforums that provided some good safety tips on riding on 65MPH 2-lane rural highways. I found Sheldon Brown's website on bicycling and pain. All have been helpful, and some more so than the people at the nearest bike shop (also 50 miles away) in some instances.

I just got back from a get-together in Nebraska. We met, in person, about two dozen bloggers that we already knew.

I don't think the Internet is reducing my local community; it's adding to it. I have local friends, and am privileged to live in a great rural community. I also have online friends, which I hope to meet someday. But let's face it, living out in Kansas farm country, I'm not running into Linux-progamming, Haskell-using, bicycle commuting, photography-loving, friends. Some of these things people in bigger cities have the opportunity to do (for instance, Flickr groups).

Incidentally, although I own a cellphone, I am one of those that would find it rude to use it in a bar, at a restaurant, etc. Not only to others around me, but defeating the point for myself too. After all, if all I wanted to do is yak on the phone, why bother eating out?

db said...

I post at Bike Forums, too, but I avoid the Safety & Advocacy boards, as they have a reputation even in the other boards. I stick mainly with the Commuting section, which is generally pretty well-behaved.

Oh, and it's the same guys in there who are quick to yell, "Elitist!" They are the Anti-elitist Elitists, if you follow. Don't bother responding to them.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there is a connection between technology and rudeness - but I think people were just as rude before.

As for communication - how many people would be privy to your ideas without technology? People may not be as friendly to strangers in a bar because they're looking at their BlackBerry, but they are keeping up connections with a wider group of friends and relatives than they used to. So they may not make as many shallow acquaintances, but they nurture the deeper friendships they have.

Instant communication allows for people to schedule an impromtu lunch, etc. that used to take a lot of landline phoning back and forth.


Anonymous said...

The only connection between technology and rudeness is when a rude person uses technology in a rude fashion.

BTW, I have to agree with some of the comments along the line that we don't need any more distinction between the type of people that ride bikes. I'm not a "cyclist". I'm not a POB. I'm a human being that from time to time uses a bike for transportation, just like I've been doing for over 40 years.

Anonymous said...


have just read today's post on BBC on the cyclist who killed a young girl

Obviously I don't have all the facts but...

I *always* say thanks to the car drivers who show some courtesy/manners. Since I drive a car (as do all of us) this seems almost perfectly circlular.

And we all know that pedestrians *don't* look for non-noisy traffic. So how can this cyclist's behaviour be justified? IMHO, it cannot be justified.

What happened to "treat as you expect to be treated?"

Or am I just another AOGF (angry old grumpy f*cker)