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Video: Are gadgets making us rude?

  1. Transcript of: Are gadgets making us rude?

    MATT LAUER, co-host: And we're back now at 8:11 with more of our special series where we're asking, 'Is civility dead?' This morning, the rudeness that seems to be all around us these days. Commuters rush onto a train before letting passengers off. From loud talkers to litterbugs, our cameras caught all sorts of bad behavior. Amy Alkon , author of "I See Rude People ," says she's not surprised.

    Ms. AMY ALKON: When you're around strangers, if you're a jerk you can do anything . And this is what's happening. We're living in societies without constraints on rudeness that we used to have when we lived in small towns.

    LAUER: And many of you agree. In a recent survey from the public opinion polling group Rasmussen Reports , 69 percent believed Americans are becoming ruder. And it's no surprise what gets under people's skin the most.

    Unidentified Woman #1: One of my biggest pet peeve is people talking on their cell phone very loud.

    LAUER: Like this woman, whose private conversation went public on an otherwise quiet bus.

    Ms. ALKON: Rude people are privatizing public space as their own. They're taking what should be shared space and acting like it's all theirs. I call it social thuggery.

    Unidentified Man: One of the things that bugs me most is when people are texting while they're with you. It's the same thing as talking on the phone during dinner. You're not involved in the conversation with the person you're with.

    Ms. ALKON: There's no manners book on how to use it. You know, our grandma didn't have a cell phone . So people don't know what to do. And really, the greatest guideline is that at root of manners is empathy.

    Unidentified Woman #2: If they don't really make eye contact, they push you, they are always checking their cell phone , and when they walk into you they think it's your fault.

    Ms. ALKON: What I think we have to do is start treating strangers like neighbors, and that just means doing small kindnesses for people.

    LAUER: So whatever happened to the kindness of strangers ? Harriette Cole is a lifestyle coach, and Aleta Koman is a psychotherapist and author. Ladies , good morning to both of you.

    Ms. HARRIETTE COLE (President, Harriette Cole Media): Good morning.

    Ms. ALETA KOMAN (Psychotherapist and Author): Good morning, Matt.

    LAUER: Yesterday we focused more on pop culture and its influence...

    Ms. COLE: Right.

    LAUER: ...on our manners or lack thereof. It seems today that we're more in the area of technology. How does technology affect manners and rudeness?

    Ms. COLE: You know, I -- I've said a lot -- a lot that humanity and technology need to be balanced, but they're not. You know, we have technology, it can help us to stay in touch with people, it can help us to enjoy our lives more because we can connect better. The problem is if we don't have conscious awareness of what we're doing, it takes over.

    LAUER: We are spending more and more of our time dealing with devices.

    Ms. COLE: Yeah, absolutely.

    LAUER: I mean, we're on the computer, we're on the cell phone , we're texting, we got the iPads, all those things.

    Ms. COLE: Right. And kids, even.

    LAUER: So is it just, Aleta , that we have lost our skills in terms of face-to-face communication?

    Ms. KOMAN: We have. We are so disengaged from reality and from human contact that we tend to -- you know, we're speeded up. There's this hyper energy going on. It's almost like we're living in a video game.

    Ms. COLE: Yeah.

    Ms. KOMAN: And we become the video characters. Instead of face-to-face, intimate discussion and looking at someone and deciding boundaries and personal space , we're self-absorbed and we're narcissistic.

    LAUER: Yeah, but we're -- but we're taking cues from somewhere. We -- I mean, I look at it this way. You know, you start your day -- and let's -- we're culprits, too.

    Ms. COLE: Yes.

    LAUER: You watch a show like this, you are watching news that is oftentimes terribly discouraging.

    Ms. KOMAN: Right.

    LAUER: It's about bullying and worse.

    Ms. COLE: Yes.

    LAUER: And you either walk out of the house and into the street either numb to it all...

    Ms. KOMAN: Right.

    Ms. COLE: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: ...and in that way you probably can't relate to other people...

    Ms. COLE: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: ...or you're angered and frustrated and you lash out at other people.

    Ms. COLE: Well, you know what? I think another part is because the economy is so tough.

    LAUER: Do you really think it's about the times?

    Ms. COLE: You know what?

    LAUER: Hasn 't it been happening for a while?

    Ms. COLE: what? It has, but I think it's worse now. When people are desperate and they feel that they don't have enough, they push. They push to get on a subway. They...

    Ms. KOMAN: Well, Harriette -- I agree with Harriette in that frustration -- people are frustrated, people are scared about losing their jobs or they have lost their jobs and they've been unemployed for a long time.

    Ms. COLE: And they misbehave.

    Ms. KOMAN: And the stress, the frustration leads to aggression.

    Ms. COLE: Yeah.

    Ms. KOMAN: And so we see more aggressive behavior when people are scared.

    LAUER: What do you make of this poll we just talked about in that piece right there, this Rasmussen poll, that 62 percent of people surveyed said that Americans are more rude to people they deal with in terms of service jobs than they have been in the past.

    Ms. COLE: Well, how many people...

    LAUER: Why do we think we can get away with that?

    Ms. KOMAN: Because it's a power and control thing. When you have somebody that's beneath you and you think that you have a little power and control, you're going to laud it over them, especially if you feel like your life is out of control.

    LAUER: Yeah, but we -- but the shoe is always put on the other foot.

    Ms. COLE: I don't even -- I don't even -- I don't...

    LAUER: We're always behind somebody else. We get it back.

    Ms. KOMAN: Right. Absolutely.

    Ms. COLE: I don't even think -- I don't even think that people are thinking of it. That's what I'm talking about, the conscious awareness.

    Ms. KOMAN: No, they're not thinking. They're not thinking.

    Ms. COLE: They're on the phone and then they go to buy something and they stay on the phone.

    Ms. KOMAN: They're not thinking.

    Ms. COLE: Many of us are guilty of it, even when we -- when we -- when we profess to have good manners.

    Ms. KOMAN: And they...

    Ms. COLE: We need to stop, be aware of where we are, who is around us in the moment, take a breath, put down the electronics and imagine it would be great to engage. You have a better quality of experience if you engage with a human being at least for a moment.

    LAUER: Before we started this discussion, we were in the commercial break and I said are -- is it too far gone? Have we gone too far down the slippery slope to ever get it back?

    Ms. COLE: It can't be. Our -- we have to teach our children.

    LAUER: And you all -- you talked about your children. That's a good idea.

    Ms. KOMAN: I think parents...

    LAUER: If you're with your kids...

    Ms. KOMAN: Parents need to be the role models. People live what they learn, and children are seeing their parents talk to the waiters and waitresses with an attitude, or the gas station attendant, or pushing in line...

    Ms. COLE: Or texting instead of talking to them.

    Ms. KOMAN: And my -- you know, people have said to me, my -- children have said to my in my practice, 'My parents don't look up from the computer when I talk to them.' What are we teaching them?

    Ms. COLE: It's by example.

    Ms. KOMAN: That they're not valued, they're not valuable. It's values. What do we value in life? Where are our priorities?

    LAUER: Aleta Koman and Harriette Cole . Ladies...

    Ms. COLE: The children have to save us .

    Ms. KOMAN: The children do. They have rights, too.

updated 11/3/2010 4:58:36 PM ET 2010-11-03T20:58:36

Is civility dead? That's the issue TODAY is exploring during a three-part series.

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Our readers were split on the issue.

Marilyn Cabral, of Warren, R.I., wrote that no one has time to be civil anymore. “People are so stressed out and always in such a hurry that politeness is losing its place in our lives,” she added.

But just as many of our readers said good manners are still alive and kicking. Laurel Boone, a professor at Saint Louis University, said she was “impressed” with her students’ manners. “They hold doors open, say thank you, and more.”

What do you think? Is civility dead? Let us know in the comments section below, and keep reading for more responses.

I am extremely short, so I ordinarily sit very close to the steering wheel of my car. When I was nine months pregnant, I became momentarily wedged under the steering wheel while I was trying to exit my car in the parking lot of my place of employment. A co-worker who considers himself to be a “Southern gentleman” paused to stare at me. Then he walked past me into the building. Later he explained that he didn't offer assistance because he knew I was a strong, independent woman who would resent the implication that I needed his help. I politely responded that if he ever had a mobility problem due to a broken leg, I would return the favor and not insult him with an offer of assistance. Since when did equality come to mean that no one ever needs help?
— Jane, N.C.

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I am a professor in the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University and have always been impressed by the civility and just plain good manners of my students. They hold doors open, say thank you, and more. Recently two students showed kindness to me that really got my attention. I have some trouble hearing soft-spoken students who sit in the back of the classroom. A student sitting in the front row unobtrusively “translated” for me while a student in the back asked a question. A few days later I was giving a test in another class and while the students were taking the test I was looking at the computer screen on my desk at the front of the classroom. Unknown to me the screen was projected at the front of the classroom. A student got my attention right away and said he wanted to be sure no one saw my e-mail. Both were thoughtful gestures from my undergrads.
— Laurel Boone, St. Louis, Mo.

Video: Part 1: Social media, TV causing lack of civility? (on this page)

I think civility and etiquette are history. The last two couples my wife and I invited to our home for dinner responded with, “Is it okay to bring extra people?” One couple just brought three extra people without warning. Not to mention that one of the guests didn’t care for the steaks we served. Thus, one of us had to leave the house and go get something they desired. The other couple responded to the invite asking if it was OK to bring their adult child with along with her newborn baby. C’mon, we simply wanted to have a nice dinner with each couple. My wife and I have never responded to a dinner invitation from another couple asking if we could bring additional people. Moreover, we have never showed up at someone’s home with any extra guests.
— Michael Roundtree, Hager City, Wis.

I work in downtown Pittsburgh and my 11-month-old son is in daycare in the same building. Every morning, I juggle multiple bags — my briefcase, my lunch, my son’s bottle bag and his diaper bag. I carry my large-for-his-age son in my arms as well. I must pass through several sets of glass doors to drop my son off at daycare. I am always amazed at how many people see me coming with my arms full, and stop and open the door for me. Men and women, young and old. And I am always so grateful for these good people who take the time to make my day just a little easier. I always say “Thank you,” but am glad for the opportunity to say it again. Thank you!
— Kate, Pittsburgh, Pa.

Video: Part 2: Are gadgets making us rude? (on this page)

When I’m out and about, I generally experience very courteous people who open doors, insist that I go first, and say please and thank you. Most will even strike up a conversation with people they don’t know while standing in the check-out line. I’ve even asked for an opinion or two from people I don’t know while shopping and have never been rejected. The incivility that permeates the airways seems to come from political opponents and their supporters that believe lies, rudeness and disrespect for the office of the president are acceptable. As an American, I am ashamed of the way some/most political candidates speak to incite rather than to invite people to listen to their plan to change or improve what they consider unacceptable. Our elections bring out the worst, or maybe the true character of people, which does not bode well for us as a nation. When the dust settles, if it ever does, where are we as a nation? Divided by the very people that say they want to solve problems.
— Sharon Moore, Whittaker, Mich.

My husband and I were recently in an office waiting to be seen. There were several people in the waiting room, and it was extremely noisy. There was a mother that was letting her two little boys, approximately 3 and 4 years old, run wild. The lady at the front desk signing people in several times yelled, “If these are your kids please make them sit down. Please get your kids.” She then followed it up with a threat of “If you can’t control your kids, CPS [Child Protective Services] is next door.” When the mother finally got up to get her little boys the receptionist told her, “In this country we use a strap to control our kids.” My husband and I were both in shock, our jaws just hit our chests. For starters, we don’t use straps in this country to control our kids. Second, she had already threatened them with CPS, and the audacity to make a comment like that to someone that was not American is deplorable!
— Lavonda Anthony, North Richland Hills, Texas

Video: Part 3: What happened to ‘please,’ ‘thank you’?

I was taking the rental car shuttle at LAX. There were about 14 people in the bus, 12 men and two women. One woman was seated, and I was the other woman and the only person standing (on heels that were pretty hard to stand in on a pitching bus). I was frustrated that watching my struggle not to fall over, not one man offered me his seat. I’d say civility is gone.
— Maureen O., Cincinnati, Ohio

This summer I broke my ankle, necessitating a knee-high boot for three months. In large stores, the only way I can shop is by using one of the motorized scooter/carts. I have been surprised and appalled at the way riders of these carts are treated. The dirty looks are bad enough. But the number of people who cut me off surprised me. Probably most unexpected of all is the number of people who block aisles in conversation, turn and see I can’t get around them, and simply turn to continue their conversations. There are been one or two truly kind people who have noticed my difficulties reaching items and helped. One woman even offered to accompany me around the store to help. But these “angels” are few and far between. In a world where almost everyone is eventually going to suffer a disability, it is a sad commentary on our culture.
— Carol Oyster, La Crosse, Wis.

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Discuss: Do you think civility is dead? Or more alive than ever?

Has our culture lost any semblance of civility?  Or is it just manifesting itself in different ways?

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