(Just a reminder, my We Give A Damn writing contest is still open; I don't have any entries yet, but I'd still really like to see some. And I do have several prizes to give away).
Here in 2010, we're now in what I like to call Web 3.0. The Web 1.0 era took up the entire second half of the 90s and lasted up until about 2005 or so, upon the launch of the first "smart phones" and the early social-media sites like Myspace (oh, so passe now). Suddenly the World Wide Web unleashed itself from desktop computers and laptops and made its way out and about onto streets, buses, airports, and just about everywhere else. People stopped buying CDs and became dependent on their iPods instead (except me, of course). Then in the past couple of years, with the launch of the iPhone, the Kindle and other digital readers (for ebooks), and sites like Twitter and Facebook, it has become de rigeur for us to do literally everything online, no matter where we are-----read books, listen to music, talk, chat, journal, keep up on the news, follow the stock market, ad nauseum. Via Facebook and Twitter, we constantly update everyone we know (and in my case, even sometimes thousands of people we don't know) of virtually every thought that enters our heads. Social media has revolutionized everything from popular music to book sales to politics. (Most political analysts agree that Obama won the 2008 election in part because he understood these new electronic media better than his stodgy Baby Boomer competition).
With the launch of Apple's iPad, we're now into Web 3.0, only a couple of years after Web 2.0 (which took close to 15 years to happen, natch). The ever-shortening timeslots between updates just illustrate the exponential power of written communications technology to upend societal norms. What's going on now hasn't really happened on this scale since Gutenberg invented the printing press circa 1400. What's next on the horizon? Who knows?
But here's something I do know. With the advancement of all of this rapid-fire technology, there is one thing we're definitely losing track of. And that's common decency and manners. When you put a flatscreen monitor or an iPhone touchscreen between yourself and whoever is on the other end of the conversation, it's easy to just forget all rules of common courtesy and act like a complete asshat. We saw this on a smaller scale with the Internet and it's now-quaint chat rooms and message boards, but in the age of Facebook it's getting even worse.
I'm a pretty thick-skinned person in general (and I'm a straight-talking, bogtrotting Irish pottymouth sometimes, too), but I also believe in good old-fashioned respect and manners. And yet, in addition to the usual mix of anonymous online-asshat behavior I've come to expect over the years, I've also seen some people I have known and respected for years blow atrocious, obnoxious shit out of their asses (I mean, mouths) on Facebook lately.
To be fair, I'll admit that I'm just as guilty of this as anybody else. When you're typing alone in your attic, sending your words out into the ether, it's easy to forget that there are real people out there reading it. And not just anybody. People you actually know, and occasionally even see and socialize with in person. (Wait, does anybody actually DO that anymore?) Sometimes I wonder.
Somebody recently told me that the way people behave on Facebook is actually the way they are deep down. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. But if it is, it can be both a good thing (in terms of fostering creativity and communication along with mutual understanding across cultures), or a bad thing (i.e., people acting like asshats).
I'm a casual member of a historical recreation society that specializes in the Middle Ages. Every couple of months, I decamp from my busy, overworked suburban-mom life, disconnect myself from the Internet and Facebook and my cell phone, dress up in a costume, and pretend to be someone from the 16th century. It's fun and it's educational. But most of all, it gives me a chance to unplug from this world that is moving entirely too fast, and to get back in touch with what it means to have real human communication of the kind that just doesn't exist anymore. Like handwritten letters on vellum, long slow conversations over homebrewed beer somebody spent months making in his cellar, and the kind of ceremonial politeness and courtesy that is basically extinct now.
I write ebooks for a living, so my very existence is dependent on Web 3.0. But I still think there can be way too much of a good thing sometimes.