“This is pretty infantile, don’t you think?”
Galia Angelova has a pixie haircut in a platinum-blonde color and a lot of free time to go out for coffee. Her English students adore her. She is 50-something years old and her greatest quality is the fact that she is “cool.” Why? No, not because of the above characteristics, but because of a simple fact that she is an avid Facebook user.
Now all is cool in teacher’s land until one day the respected 50-something year old English teacher from Bulgaria decides to write a comment on one of her former students’ facebook pictures, calling it infantile.
Ah, the revolution!
Apart from the hurt student’s self-esteem and a lot of angry comments, another issues comes up – why does a grown woman, an adult from an educational institution, go around commenting on students’ pictures and creating tension? Expressing your opinion is a great thing, being rude about it shows lack of manners.
If you go to somebody’s house and they decide to show you their photo albums, are you going to tell the host “Hey, your pictures are infantile”? Or are you going to smile, nod and say that they have nice memories and you are glad that they are sharing them with you? This may as well be the biggest lie of the day, the pictures may be horrible and the hostess may have an awful taste in photography. But society has embraced the well-mannered nod of the head along with the light smile as the perfect instrument for keeping yourself out of trouble and in good standing with the people around you.
Some may call it hypocrisy. And they may be right. Why would you say “I like it” when you don’t? What is the difference between having manners and having acting abilities? At last, what is manners on the first place?
“Simply respecting one another,” said Russian student Fatima Karalova.
Something that the mass media and social networks like Facbooks are beginning to erase from people’s lives.
“In the past people learned to think before they spoke, they had respect. Now they go by what the media says, not by what they see by themselves, they allow the media to rule their decisions, to rule over their minds and thoughts,” said Kevin Douglas, a retired marine from Marion, SC. As much credit as we give the TV for making us think in a certain way, the core of the problem is the simple publicity issues are being given. If something is famous, then it must be true/good/acceptable? The very fact that we see something day after day makes us subconsciously more prone to take a position based on what we see, even if there is completely no logic in our position. Following is our social position and very ften our attacking of said individual just because we saw it on TV or the Internet.
“People put things about other people on the media whether it is true or not. Sometimes they put somebody’s face on the media and they write about them, but it doesn’t mean it is true. The viewers don’t bother searching for evidence on their own. If you got enough media coverage saying he is guilty, then all of a sudden people change their minds,” said Douglas. Popularity runs over classical values like respect for a person’s privacy, which, on its own, excludes any thoughts of showing manners and keeping our noses out of peoples’ business.
But no matter how much popularity and wrong opinions some think the mass media produces, nothing can compare to the Internet and its newest big bad wolf: the social networks.
The Internet, admit it or not, is faceless, which gives people freedom to be who they are. Or who they are not. In some cases, who they want to be.
It also gives this false sense of being exempt from social responsibility, from having, yes, manners.
“Who are you to put that on facebook?” asks Douglas, discussing how people put their personal feuds on facebook as a way of getting back at each other. “My personal life is my personal life, just because we are friends and you got mad at me one day, you can’t put stuff about me on facebook. If people have disagreements with you, they put you on facebook instead of calling you, they put you “on blast”. Suddenly your personal business is out there just because that’s their way to get back at you. It is public humiliation and that’s the goal – to publicly humiliate you. They know you have a lot of friends, so, what better way to get back at you?” Douglas said.
Two obvious problems arise, against any reason and good manners. Why would we take facebook seriously enough to take fights on it? And second, how much of children can we possibly be to do that? It turns out, facebook’s facelessness encourages grown people to act like teenagers as we saw with the English teacher in the beginning of the story. Maybe the feeling of being a teenager is what attracts people to go on the Internet as a beginning. Maybe remembering the careless, mannerless, blind way of picking at each other that was a part of primary school is what makes facebook the ultimate playground for adults.
“It’s a lot of drama on the Internet,” said Karalova. Does it have grounds for it? No. “It’s so much unimportant stuff, people care about so much that is not worth their attention. There might be some situations when you are trying to get money for sick people, it’s a good way of sharing information: Quick, helpful, there are a lot of powerful people who can see the problem. But at the same time why don’t u just pick up the phone and call instead of sending these stupid messages?” Karalova asked.
But where does that leave us?
“It can break friendships, it can break marriages. It can hurt a lot of people, lose a lot of friends,” said Douglas.
But these are the severe cases, on an everyday basis, social networks are plain dysfunctional when it comes to good behavior and manners.
“Social media really praises the lack of manners. They think we should be cool, we should relate to that – not having manners at all. . They call twitter the social network, but I think that’s the least social thing u can find because people are not connecting and talking to each other on a social level, just a cyber-thing.,” said Karalova.
“Me and you talking right now, and I look into your eyes.” A pretty straight answer, considering she is a great foursquare fan and tweets herself regularly. The question is, her online life doesn’t impede her ability to be polite to people in real world, something her facebook friends have not learned as a lesson. And not only her friends, but the generation as a whole.
“People don’t really think about manners, they think we should always be” cool” with each other,” said Karalova. Certainly it is very cool to be ‘cool” with each other, especially when you don’t exactly know what “cool” means, nor do you have an idea how to be polite or reach out to somebody.
“It is easier for people because people don’t rly know how to connect to one another nowadays,” said Karalova. “Maybe because they are so afraid of that, maybe people do have manners, but because of their incapacity to socialize, that makes them look really bad and they try to hide somewhere.” So, being completely clueless about this, the best thing to do is hide your manners and yourself and what better place to do that than the social media. Ironic, really, since the social media is supposed to be, well, social, public, open. It is not a place to hide, and at the same time it is. You hide behind big words, rude statuses and attacking posts on former friends’ walls. You hide with a log out and with a like button which doesn’t require you to do something more than press a button meanwhile giving you the false sense of satisfaction that you have ‘communicated” and “showed respect” to someone. If only our world could be ruled by a like button…
It is so much safer to be nice online, to like everything, have long chats and all this without having your face seen or your voice heard, thus being out of responsibility so as to what you say, how do you say it and when you leave.
“I have so many people who are really nice to me on the internet, but when I see them at school they don’t even say hi to me. And that’s the lack of manners, because you basically know me, you write comments and talk to me in facebook but in real life you don’t even look at me,” said Karalova.
Yes, she thinks her friends know her. But do they? As Enad Adi from Jordan put it, “You can put a picture of somebody who died with the date of the funeral and everyone will go to the funeral. This does show good manners, but, in fact, the visitors will only know the person’s face, they won’t know him.” Why? Because if they were close to the departed, they would have received a notification for the funeral in another way. And the whole showing of respect by going to the funeral comes down to simple curiosity and maybe some kind of a distant sense of duty, the same one that makes us go to parties we have been invited to via the social network. Oh, indeed, a funeral and a party can be announced in the same way and get paid the same attention.
Even with real friends manners start to disappear because a phone and a login are enough to enternatin us and at the same time we think our physical presence in the room is enough fpr everyone else around us to feel respected and paid attention to.
“Sometimes that is the stumbling block for me and my friend because she is constantly texting, while I am right here with her. When we didn’t live together she used to say said “Oh, when we live together we will spend all our time together and it will be so cool,” but what happens now: I am by myself at home watching movies and she is next to me in the same room texting someone else,” said Karalova. While this is a typical behavior for teenagers when they are at home and want to show anything but manners to their parents, it is surprising to find it in a friend environment where there is no place for teenage revolution.
So how can we distinguish between people who just follow the “like” button and the real show of respect and good manners? What kind of actions should we look for in a well-mannered person?
“I would love to see people who behave well, I would love to see men who treat their wives right, friends that are real friends and don’t hurt each other, sometimes people forget about manners and think more about their social status, and the way they look in the public eye,” said Karalova. Listing your enemy’s sins on facebook does make you look cool, it also makes you look like a distasteful individual with no sense of privacy, honor or basic education on the subjects of behaving in public. And here is the next definition of manners which doesn’t really get old even in this century: education.
“Manners is education. Good behavior that shows people that u r an educated person,” said Tatyana Josan, a student from Moldova. In a post-soviet country with a lot of old-fashioned rules, manners centers around “the example of your family, teachers, university,” said Josan. As a recently new facebook user, she used to get upset when people would chat with her and suddenly log out without saying goodbye, a typical action today on the Internet. “I was like, why do you do that, why did you leave/” Josan was asking. But she can’t really stop them from leaving, she is not physically with the person, there is a computer diving them from each other and somehow, in its division, erasing people’s manners and communication skills. And it is exactly the machine itself, the facelessness of the Internet, that does that, according to Josan. “You can chat on facebook with the same am of politeness, but when we chat we feel more free, we think chatting is not as important as face to face conversation. They have this computer barrier that gives them freedom to communicate in any way,” she said. But, in fact, how can you actually call that communication if it has been distorted to messages about funerals and the sudden disappearance of someone who you are talking to? If you sit with a person in a room talking, would they just get up and leave, nothing said? Or would they spend 5 seconds of their precious time saying, “excuse me, I have to go.”
But the Internet breaks up the chains of good behavior, respect, education, or whatever else we can define as manners today. It has no face, no breath, no warmth of the hand of the friend next to you to tell you this conversation actually exists.
“There are no limits on the internet,” said Josan. And this exact lack of limits makes everything, even a five-second spelling of the word “goodbye” unnecessary. Or, in the case of Diana-May Waldman, a total attack on personal things that she decided to share with her supposed Facebook friends.
A month ago, Waldman shared a Facebook post, explaining that she is crying and removing all the pictures she put of her baby grandson, an adorable 10-month looking baby boy with dark curls making funny faces, just the ones babies do. Apparently, a facebook friend of Waldman had deleted her from her friend list after posting that Waldman’s baby pictures disgusted her every day when she watched them and she can’t take it anymore.
If we put aside the burning question “Who the hell doesn’t like baby pictures?????” another question is left – is it manners that this individual is lacking, or is it just simple humanity and, yes, mercy. America does so much to encourage families to have more kids, while at the same time somebody somewhere decides she has the right to hurt people because of a baby album on Facebook. Maybe manners is also exactly this, showing mercy towards others, even when you feel “disgusted” by their baby pictures.
True enough, manners is different for every individual and the more new technologies arise, the stranger, weirder, more distorted and plain ridiculous manners will become. Even now, after talking to so many people, nobody agreed on one definition.
“I think that we should be original, many things have changed during the years, but there are some building blocks that are necessary no matter what,” said Karalova. In 2013 this young Russian student considers manners “original,” maybe because they are getting so rare.
“Manners are very important in our society, we started to forget about them, but we still need to use them to communicate with people, get into relationships, keep each other closer,” concluded Josan. Even though manners are a social quality, sometimes putting limits on you and chaining you in rules about behavior, their lack will undoubtedly make it harder to be close to people, according to Josan.
We will never have one definition about this, but let’s take a simple rule that usually exists, in one form or another, in all the religions around the world from the Bible to Confucius:
“DO NOT do unto others, which you DO NOT want others to do unto you.”
And this, if not manners, at least shows you are a good person. Maybe.