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Is Technology Leading to a Loss of Etiquette?

I'm a mom and a teacher so that pretty much means that I never stop being one nor the other-regardless of where I am.  It's because of this that I got involved as a mom/teacher recently when I confronted a young college student displaying high level of "proficiency" in using profanity outside my local grocery store.

She was shocked that I said something to her about her dropping "F-bombs" loud enough for me and my 9 year-old daughter to hear.  SHE was shocked.  I find this the most ironic part of the story.  She felt she did not do anything out of normal.  It was just then (thankfully before I lost my mom/teacher cool) that I realized that she wasn't lying- she really didn't think she was inappropriate.  Why should she? In her lifetime, social rules for acceptable language has changed dramatically. 

I've seen profanity appear in my students' writing and used in my class without reservation- until I make it known that it is, despite what they see or hear on the radio or TV, very inappropriate.  Am I just becoming square or out of touch?  I doubt it (smile), but what I think is surfacing is a "side effect" of the electronic revolution in which Generation Y or "net generation" kids have been raised.  These kids born between 1980-1994 are the ones who are the prolific users and shapers of the world wide web, the inventors of IM and text message lingo, and those who feel insecure or unequipped if not connected via WiFi or Bluetooth to the rest of the world at least 75% of their day.

Which leads me to understanding the lack of regard for others around them when it comes to social ethics.  Most of 15-29 year-olds' interactions occur via some sort of electronic media and lack face-to-face, physical contact with a human being.  I asked three high school students this weekend how often they have deep conversations with someone in person vs. the computer.  While all three admit they prefer to have face-to-face interactions, two admitted to spending most of their free time on the computer either emailing, or chatting with a friend, even if that friend lived just a few houses down the block.

Maybe this lack of physical proximity to another person during conversation has led to a disintegration of moral or ethical discourse.  Think about it- if you knew that you were not going to be immediately held accountable for your words or actions during a conversation (which only a face-to-face interaction could provide), what motivation would you have to maintain appropriate conduct?  In the case of the net-generation, where the majority of conversations occur electronically, the lack of this type of accountability has led to a decline in social grace merely because there has been no real need to learn it.

What implication does this have, then, on our future workforce, educators, parents, and world leaders? When a situation arises where social ethics will pave the way to an outcome, what will this net-gener do?

Going back to my story about the foul-mouthed college student, she told me to mind my own business.  I told her that when she spoke that loud, she made it my business.  She told me that she wasn't talking to me.  Who was she talking to? 

Rolling her eyes, hands on her hips, she replied, "Ugh- I was leaving my boss a voicemail, ok?!"



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