The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Has technology made it worse?

Being disrespectful has never been easier

Illustration by Jimmy Holder

At first glance the slings and arrows of disrespect seem more prevalent today due to technology. When did you last wage a complaint using the post office as your delivery system? You likely advertised your disgust with a product or service—even a particular person—via e-mail or on a Web site.

But maybe technology isn’t to blame for hurtling us past some “Golden Age of Nice.” Perhaps we just have the ability to fling those slings and arrows faster, further, easier. In the old days, my disgust might have melted away by the time I wrote—and found a stamp. Now I can sit down at my computer, write a few lines, sign (or not sign) my name and click send. Done.

But new technologies have also brought disrespect to a new, even deadly, level—especially to and among young people. We’re way beyond beating up someone for their lunch money or starting a rumor about someone’s questionable morals. Stalking and cyberbullying not only hurt feelings (often anonymously), they’ve ruined reputations and even ended lives. Such harassment wasn’t possible in our history.

At the same time, the ability to communicate respect and find community beyond our city limits have never been easier. Have you or someone you know found a long-lost family member or classmate using Facebook or Google? Does a cell phone enable you to keep closer tabs on your children or visit more frequently (and cheaply) with friends? And although a hastily written e-mail thanking someone for last night’s dinner might be frowned on by Miss Manners, it might still be better than not doing it at all—because you couldn’t find a stamp.


Jack Labusch

Jack Labusch

Posted at 2:25 am (U.S. Eastern) 1/13/2009

I received an e-mail recently with just the sender's name and "With Thanks" as the subject.  Thinking it was yet another bogus e-mail urging me to invest, or announcing I'd won a sweepstakes, I deleted it without opening.  A few days later I recalled the name as that of a Wisconsin educator and opinion leader who'd written a nationally published article on upgrading the status of adjunct university educators.  I'd sent him an e-mail with an unpublished article of mine that addressed one of his major concerns.  I recovered his e-mail, which was a friendly note of solidarity and encouragement.  I got a lift from that.

So technology is a sort of mixed bag for me; I wouldn't want to give up the ability to reach out fairly quickly to folks beyond my immediate community.

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