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Has Technology Replaced Common Decency and Manners?

I was answering an email recently and thought about how far technology has taken us. In today’s need-it-right-now culture, a lot of things get done by simply pushing the send button on our computers. When did all of this actually start? Well, the age of technology is here and we are sitting right in the middle of it. 

Could it be that the telephone has become a tool of the past? You remember the telephone, don’t you?  We dialed a few numbers and we actually talked to someone. There wasn’t anything called voicemail. If we didn’t get whom we wanted to talk to, we simply called again until we got them. Now we are quick to say, “Did you get my voicemail”? It is almost like playing a game of I tagged you first, especially when both parties have sent them. I must admit to having played that game a time or two. One of my New Year’s resolutions is simply to let someone know what my voicemail was about instead of asking the question.

It is my thinking that, because almost everyone has a computer, voicemails are slowly being replaced by emails. Of course with a voicemail, you can only leave it for one person; with an email, you can leave it for more than one person. With an email, you can develop lists of people for particular emails and, my favorite, the forward email. These forward emails come from out of the blue as your name might be one of fourteen names on the forward. The irony in it is that you may not know anyone on the entire email.  Obviously, we can do a lot with emails, and we are only getting started.

Despite this rush of technology, I still think there are some things that should be done face-to-face. Take for example over the summer Shirley Sherrod employed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was fired from her job while driving. How do you terminate someone in this way? Of course now we realize that it was a rush to judgment and they want her back. It is safe to say that everyone involved in the termination had a knee-jerk reaction. We have all been hired by phone, but I don’t know of anyone who has been fired by phone and\or text. 

All of us have had to apologize to someone at some point in our lifetime. I certainly have given my fair share of them. However, I have come across a few people in my time who find it extremely difficult to apologize or to simply say they are sorry. This certainly wasn’t the case for Vince Young, quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. If you recall, Vince Young was playing in a game a month or so ago when things began to go south. He was injured and eventually had season-ending surgery.  However, as the story goes, he and Jeff Fisher, longtime coach of the Titans, got into a heated exchange, and tempers flared.  Within a day or so Young apologized as he should have. 

It was his method of apologizing that troubles me. Vince Young sent Jeff Fisher an apology by text message. When I initially heard about it, I had two emotions: shock and pity. Whatever happened to picking up a telephone and saying, “Coach, this is Vince and I apologize for my actions on Sunday.” Coach Fisher probably would have accepted the apology, and everything would have been alright. Whatever happened to walking into his office and saying, “Coach, I am sorry, I made a mistake.” Texting an apology is simply beyond my understanding as I am an old school guy. There are some things that you just don’t do. I know that many stars have publicists\agents and Vince Young is no different. Obviously, he didn’t consult with his publicist before sending the apology by text.

In too many instances, as we are closing out 2010, technology seems to be challenging our ability to talk face-to-face or minimally to talk on the phone. Which is quicker, picking up a telephone or sending an email or text? You be the judge. Which form enhances our communication skills? I am sure some of these questions have made their way into college classrooms, especially communication classes. Let’s not have technology trump our civility and good manners.

Dr. James B. Ewers Jr. is vice president of student affairs and enrollment management at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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