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Rude Rules

February 10, 2014

It’s so easy to rose-color-glass the rear view mirror. Every change has some collateral damage, and we do miss what we do not have, even when its replaced with a reality that is objectively superior. I still have a twinge of sadness at the loss of my 1963 Volvo 544 – even though it had no way to determine how much gas was in its tank…

The last half of my parents’ lives were lived in the deep dark muck of a world where the tide of WASP Male Dominance was ebbing away so quickly that everything around them was becoming unrecognizable. Despite color television, frozen foods and automatic transmission, a place they knew was leaving them, and in fact, that place  was designed specifically for their ease of use. In their recollection, everything was better “then”, everything “now” was both foreign and frightening.

A world where half the population was asking for gender-blind social, legal and professional status, where any skin color had every right enumerated in the Constitution and hair was uncontrolled by bi-weekly cropping and Brill Cream made them feel that there was no footing: it was not just unpleasant, it was scary.

For country club WASP’s the 1920’s thru 1950’s were a pretty sweet ride – the Depression was for others and feminism, desegregation, and the Beatles were unheard of. The apple cart is only a liability when flipped over. And flipped over it was for my folks, where Kennedy, Kids and Karma made the 1960’s an alien planet.

The winds of cultural change blew away the social contract of going along to get along and demonstrations became commonplace, and occasionally violent. As equal rights became a reasonable expectation, cities burned along with bra’s.

Today our cities may be at room temperature and Spanx remain unignited, but the flamers abound. As physical tethers to news, entertainment  and work disappeared in favor of ether-sourcing, the scorched earth in its wake is in the flooding snark of personal disinterest beyond your own screen.

I must say that there are parallel breaks in paradigm for we Boomers in the brave new 20-teens.  50 years after the end of my parents’ sweet spot,  a technological tsunami has rewritten almost every aspect of our culture with a depth and breadth that gives me a little more sympathy for their shell shock.

Obviously paper is waning, screens are glowing, voices emanate from almost everything that has power, and everything tells time. I no longer wear a watch because my iPhone, iPad, laptop, television, microwave  and  obsolete land line phones tell time for me. Wires are becoming useless as everything is connected by forces that make my parents’ awe over television seem reasonable now. Every bit of communication – art, commerce, news, relationships – everything that is exchanged except food, shelter and clothing has a technological delivery system option that was not present 20 years ago.

My parents could belong to a country club until they died, but the average age got geriatric and the  number of members fell thru the floor. I could still mail letters, talk on a land line, even watch broadcast TV, but I’d be one of a tiny shrinking posse of Luddites, whining against the WiFi.

Deep change is not just cultural, aesthetic or technological: it inevitably becomes personal. My father worked 9 to 5 and had August off. His world simply ceased to exist in the 1980’s. His last year of practicing law was the first year the fax “changed everything”.  In his last decade working in Manhattan, the other lawyers could be women, black or non-Ivy and be treated like anyone else (well, superficially).

Even in the darkest days of prejudice, injustice and simple blind faith in a social order that had largely remained unchanged since the Industrial Revolution, my parents were never rude. They always said and wrote “thankyou”, they never assumed anyone wanted to do or talk about what they were doing and engaged in polite conversation with a natural ease that belied their fairly distressed in-denial state in Cheeverland.

The gloss of personal consideration slid over every presumption of privilege, no one felt the cruel judgments their culture made for people who looked or loved differently. They had deep friendships with gay, Jewish and black friends – but simultaneously had heinous stereotypic hardcore beliefs about their incapacities, venalities and preferences.

One-on-one grace and thoughtfulness was flip-sided by mass intolerance, close-mindedness and prejudice for  large cultural, demographic and sociological realities.

Our time is marked by a full-on jujitsu reversal of this paradigm. Egalitarianism is not just talk, laws walk the walk, and sexism, homophobia and racism are rightly reviled. But in that triumph of high-mindedness, our interpersonal world has wizened down to the point where we actually talk and see fewer and fewer fellow humans in the flesh.

The filter of technology has fertilized our reptilian brain: we have become entitled by an unfiltered mode of expression to mute the sense that our expression may comment on what others believe deeply in. All Christians are idiot bigots. All fat people are lame jokes. Obama is Evil. Obama is Perfect. The loudest megaphone on the biggest stage means the rude rule.

Rudeness is the fundamental grammar used in the new language technology forces us to speak. Universality dehumanizes, and rudeness fills the void where the human touch is absent. Those digital clocks confer no special status to AM or PM, there are no introductions other than “Subject Lines”. Work that has no place is ever-present. Thoughts that are go untexted are diminished.

When there are no physical boundaries, tangible contact  (let alone eye contact) – when ears are only used for Ear Buds, then the humanity that intuitively compels decency can be avoided.

Taking offense at responses to texts that take longer than a 4 hour REM sleep interval is common. Weekends are merely 2 more days of 24/7 availability. The word Sabbath seems as relevant as a buggy whip or a stick shift. We have gone from Zipless to Velcro to Compression – there are no distinct cultural fasteners – just a huge overwhelming technological sea we are forced to swim in.

Twitter has become a new pathology spread by software. It is technological Tourette Syndrome, unfiltered, autonomic and completely egomaniacal. Spew is the new normal. Circumspection, consideration, hell,  hesitancy of any kind is lame. This is the new Emily Post for posters: if you receive, respond, now. NOW. Later is a diss. It’s, like, lame. And the highest sin for the anonymous Trolls who fill so many crevices in the internet is lameness.

If you think: say, if you see: post, if you like: “Like”. It’s all about You – and Everyone is there to see, hear and “Like” you. Or not. The same unthinking unfiltered unconsidered autonomic reactionary snap snarking that allowed your own instantaneous wish-fulfillment of expression invites a similar response in real time.

What’s good for the texter is good for the flamer. The idea that feelings could be considered, or that you are judged beyond response time is slipping away. An editor expects a response from me that hour. A client retexts me if I do not respond that day. My wife worries if I do not return a text  in minutes.

Instantaneous is expected. Tardiness is inexcusable. At least respond, text Something, Anything. “thx”. “OMG” “LOL” – Anything…

However the Rule of Immediacy – the required return of electronic serve at light speed – has a flip side: the Black Hole of Nothing In The Inbox. Huge open portals of invitation are now offered at every platform: enter this contest, submit this essay, be part of our movement, state your case  and on and on – are everywhere. But when you respond – when you e-blast, “like”, “share”, “favorite”, hit “send” the silence in return can be deafening.

The ease of submission, the risk-free offering of you can be met with a stony deadness of nothingness in reply that is as depressing as a blank screen.

There used to be rejection letters. There were editors, or secretaries, or just humans that told you that you sucked, were not worthy or came up short. Now the open invite often has a dead end as its endpoint. Silence is worse when there is a unabating cacophony that brackets its specific indictment.

This newness of techno-incivility, of mass individuation into billions of islands of ego, of F-U as a default setting is, in fact, nothing new.

It is just rude.

Humans who lose any sense that other humans are worth the respect  they themselves expect from others have always been part of our culture – perhaps even the largest part. Racism, sexism, homophobia may be social diseases but they were, and are, based in rudeness. Intolerance is not just about a sense of exclusive or predatory superiority, it’s the overriding of rude self-serving impulse.

Our base reptilian alter egos are not new, but they have larger more impersonal platforms, where shame is unknown, because it cannot be seen or heard over the internet. Cruelty is easier when it’s done beyond arm’s length, out of sight, beyond earshot.

We are all B52 pilots over Cambodia in 1968: we are dropping bombs of self expression – we see their impact through a distant frame, but cannot hear, see smell the impact on the ground. What we don’t know can’t hurt us…and since we now seem to be able to know anything, everything, right now, it does not much matter.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2014 7:10 am

    Duo, I am extraordinarily grateful that you wrote this this deeply person and staggeringly inisghtful — and, yes, brave — piece. It reminds me that we are all architects of the soul… Janice G. Branford

  2. February 23, 2014 1:01 pm

    Howdy, I believe your site may be having web browser compatibility issues.
    Whenever I take a look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening
    in IE, it’s got some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to provide you
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    • February 23, 2014 2:57 pm

      Thanks! I have noticed and had corrected over the last year or so, but the fix ain’t perm…will effort…


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