Manners Matter: A Breakdown in Modern Communication

I’m not the most punctual person. As anyone who knows me (intimately or on a “I just met you yesterday why are you late, that’s rude” kind of way), I sometimes have difficulty getting to places on time. For example, I am completely incapable of showing up to my history conference class on Thursday at 10:15. I can easily get there at 10:20.
Five minutes earlier? It just doesn’t happen.

But given that I’ve gone from arriving thirty minutes late to all social functions, to arriving on time or even early, I would like to address how acceptable it has become to be late, cancel at the last minute, or simply not show up at all without letting someone know. With the advent of modern communications systems, it should be easier to make plans at the last minute rather than create yet another way to inconvenience people.
Take the cell phone, for example. Maybe, like me, you don’t have unlimited texting, a perpetual internet connection or apps for doing your laundry, but you have the ability to communicate. Getting the message across is easy. You pick up your cell phone. Oh wait, it’s dead-you forgot to charge it last night. You turn to your friend and ask to borrow-wait, you’re pathologically late and notorious for bailing at the last minute. At a certain point, people are going to stop inviting you to their cotillions.
How is it that that events planned weeks in advance fall through at the drop of a hat? When did it become socially acceptable to be so laissez-faire about the sacred institution of event-planning? Sure, I don’t practice what I preach and maybe sometimes I just don’t want to go to my friend’s best-friend’s girlfriend’s birthday party and refrained from saying so out of politeness. But when the host is particularly expecting you to be there and you cancel at the last minute, you lose integrity.
We’ve reached a point in modern society where we try to juggle too many things at once. I know this feeling intimately; it’s called FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out”. Technology and communication have allowed you to meet up with your English professor for coffee, let your best friend know early enough that you’re going to be late for lunch, set up a date with the cute barista who served you, and then invite as many people as possible to go out later that night.
We are inherently social creatures and crave the presence of other people. Obviously it can be scary when there are three things planned in one night and you just have to go to all of them somehow. And yet, it is the same shiny new communication breakthroughs that have caused a communication breakdown.
From my rather oblivious perspective, the average student has to juggle so much more than they used to. Social media has convinced us that we can have our cake and eat it too. This can cause unnecessary stress that can’t be relieved by friends, sangria, and chocolate cupcakes. And that is why time management is of the utmost importance (and perhaps an agenda too. They don’t seem to give those out for free anymore unfortunately). It sucks to have to cancel at the last minute. Nobody enjoys doing it and no one likes being on the receiving end of “hey, I’m sorry but it turns out I can’t make it tonight”.
Sometimes that’s okay; ten out of the 15 people you invited show up to your birthday? Alright, we can’t have everything. But when only two show up while the other eight had RSVPd? It reflects badly on you as a potential guest and makes the host feel like they have no friends. And maybe this person isn’t the greatest, but they invited you because they wanted to share a special occasion with the people that are closest to them. Think about how it would feel if the situation were reversed; not so great right? At the end of the day, this is a matter of courtesy. You respect your friends, right?
Perhaps chivalry ain’t dead, but courtesy and proper manners are certainly on their way to being extinct. Texting at dinner, texting while chatting with actual people, talking loudly in the movies (there’s a special circle of hell reserved for people who do that. I’ll meet the rest of you in there), and a plethora of other habits are around to remind us just how much society has changed since cellphones have become the norm rather than the exception.
It’s easier than ever to reach out but it’s also easier to annoy and inconvenience those closest to you. Where do we find the balance between acceptable new-age communications behaviors and common courtesy? We’re going to have to re-write Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers to answer that question.
So maybe you have a legitimate reason for bailing at the last minute; midterms are piling up and you realized that you need to get your ass in gear if you want to pass; midterms finally finished and you’re actually going to pass out if you don’t get some sleep soon. Maybe your family from south of the border showed up and your parents neglected to tell you. Sometimes our lives are out of our control.
The rest of us are just watching Breaking Bad reruns on our laptops…

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