Our rapidly growing incivility started with the invention of the telephone-answering machine.

Before the answering machine’s widespread adoption, people answered their landline phones with a pleasant “hello,” eager to learn who was calling.

To be sure, says social scientist James Katz, answering machines were considered rude in the ‘70s. 

By the ‘90s, however, most homes had them and lots of people were using them, quite rudely, to screen calls - people like my pal, Griffy.

Calls to Griffy’s landline always made me grumpy:

“Hello, this is Griffy, leave a message at the beep.” 

“Pick up the phone, Griffy, I know you’re there!”

Griffy demanded his friends leave messages on his machine, but always hung up on mine - until the invention of the “star 69” feature.

When you punched “star 69” into your phone keypad, you’d get the number of the jerk who had last hung up on your machine. 

Boy, did that technology innovation escalate rudeness!

I had a telephone confrontation once with a fellow who had hung up on my machine. I keyed in star 69, got his number, dialed it, then got his answering machine:

“Hello, this is Bill. Sally and I aren’t in right now ... .”

I didn’t know who the fellow was - I figured he’d dialed my number by mistake - so I hung up.

Later that day, after returning from a business meeting, I saw that someone had hung up on my machine again. 

I dialed star 69, got the number, dialed it, then heard, “Hello, this is Bill. Sally and I aren’t in right now ... .” 

I hung up again. A few moments later, my phone rang. I picked it up.

“Hello,” I said.

“Who is this?” said the man. I recognized the voice. It was Bill.

“You called me and hung up!” I said.

“You called me and hung up!” said Bill.

“Nuh-huh!” I said.

“Yuh-huh!” he said.

Email was another innovation that escalated rudeness. I remember reading a Wall Street Journal story about two Boston lawyers whose email exchange went viral. 

One lawyer, a 24-year-old woman, sent an e-mail to an older, established lawyer, declining his job offer.

The older lawyer, miffed that the woman would email her rejection after she’d already accepted the job offer in person, fired off an email telling her she wasn’t very professional.

She replied that if he were a real lawyer he would have made her sign a contract. He replied, in so many words, that she was a snot. She sent one last reply: “blah, blah, blah.”

These are just some examples of how earlier technology innovations made us ruder. 

And now, the era of smartphones and social media - the era of nasty tweets and Facebook insults - is making rudeness, reports Psychology Today, “our new normal.”

The magazine cites research, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, that finds technology-enabled anonymity and “a lack of eye contact” are chief contributors to our growing incivility.

To wit: Technology is making it easier than ever to be rude to our fellow man, but we must fight this impulse, or else our already overheated public discourse will become increasingly uncivil.

It’s not going to be easy, though.

Even my parents use their answering machine to screen calls from my sisters and me. 

Mom and Dad, I know you’re home. Please pick up the phone!

 Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. 

OPINION: The integrity principle

By John Grimaldi, an editorial contributor at the 

Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC]

   

In 1964 I was a young reporter at the American Forces Network headquarters news desk in Frankfurt, West Germany. My editor -- a crusty, chain smoker who routinely tossed copy back at me and said just two words, “fix it,” – had assigned me to cover the controversial Johnson- Goldwater presidential election campaign. “Fix it,” he said tossing my first story back to me. He’d done a word count and was concerned that I had devoted 10 or 15 extra words to Mr. Goldwater. He saw it as bias. I learned my lesson. 



It was a lesson about integrity. Without that quality journalists become irrelevant. They become partisan hacks. They become hit men for personal causes. More important, they erode the confidence the public had in them and in all news reporters. It’s their job to provide the facts; it is the readers’ prerogative to interpret those facts. We don’t need the spin of a biased newsman.



The majority of journalists and their editors still adhere to the rules and most publishers offer swift justice in the form of pink slips for those who stray. But, it seems that these days it has become difficult, at best, to know when a report in a newspaper or on TV is actually news or a personal opinion.



It’s bad enough that anyone with a computer, a basic knowledge of grammar and a vivid imagination can be a reporter these days by posting their so-called news stories on the Internet. These new age town criers have no rules; they are free to twist and turn their so-called coverage of an event or personality to suit their personal agendas. But when mainstream reporters do it, we all lose. We lose confidence in the purpose and accuracy of the stories we read in the morning paper and those we watch on the evening news.



Doctor of Psychology Seth Meyers, writing in the journal Psychology Today, says, “an individual with integrity is the antidote to self-interest.” 



The late Dr. Charles Krauthammer was such an individual. In his Washington Post obituary Jacob Heilbrunn, editor of the National Interest, a publication focused on American interests, is quoted as saying: “Krauthammer wasn’t simply a reflexive, unthinking conservative who was peddling the party line. He had real discernment and independence. At bottom, he was an intellectual, not just a journalist, with real literary flair and style and insight.” 



Before he died, Krauthammer, who was a columnist for the Post, wrote what was to be his last column for the newspaper. It was an Opinion article in which he discussed his ill health and impending death. His words are the very essence of what it means to be a journalist with integrity:  



“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.”



News reporters are bound by a code of ethics. They stick to the facts. They do not take advantage of the stories they are covering to promote a personal agenda. The integrity principle is taken seriously and, if they stray, there are editors who strictly enforce the code. Editorials are for the editorial pages.



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