The Twilight of Courtesy and Conversation

Are we seeing courtesy and conversation fall victim to technology?

Or, maybe we are just facing the latest skirmish from an onslaught of hand-held digital devices. Regardless, it certainly does feel as if thumb typing and text messaging have taken over planet earth. Simple courtesies, sharing genuine thoughts, and expressing views in whole sentences seem to have been replaced with cryptic messages.

Forget the abbreviations we've been familiar with for decades, let alone full words. The online website,, posts: "1,374 online chat and text message abbreviations," with page after page of two- or three-word abbreviations.

Sadly enough, too many people have already traded "you're welcome" for "no problem." And now "no problem" has slipped even further to become just "NP." Clearly, any similarity between "NP" and the original sentiment behind "you're welcome" is lost. "NP" has no real meaning and absolutely none of the grace that goes with accepting a simple "thank you."

And when a sincere "thank you" might be hard for some to say, "TU" or "TY" just roll off the keyboard. Plus, you don't have to think as hard. Just mindlessly tap two keys.

There are those who would be quick to say that I'm just from an earlier generation and slow to recognize the transformation brought about by the digital age.

Hardly true, though. I know full well the power of social media and you can quickly find me on LinkedIn and Twitter.

But to assuage any doubt and get an impartial and younger view, I texted and spoke with my kids, their friends, and some younger relatives -- all in their twenties or thirties. The findings may not be worthy of a Gallup poll, but what they told me was interesting.

Frankly, regardless how aggressively the wireless phone companies market "unlimited" text messaging, none of those I spoke with are big fans. While they do find it useful when needing to make a quick point, pass on factual information efficiently, or answer a quick question, they seem to mourn the loss of a conversation where people actually have something to say and where two people open up about themselves with the goal of developing a relationship.

One of my children came right out and stated that he actually hated texting: There is no way to tell if the other person was being genuine. If that is the case, he asked, "Why bother texting at all?"

It is no substitute, another added, for "face-to-face," when you can look directly at the other person, watch the movement of their eyes, and see the emotion... or lack of it. In an intriguing turnabout, yet another asked me: "Why would anyone want to talk to a machine and then get a reply you might not be able to believe?"

Others saw receiving texts as an imposition, even intrusive. You receive them whether you want them or not. Some are just one word or two, like "hey" or "wha's up?" People are chasing you electronically and making assumptions about how you want to spend your time. Even if you turn your phone off to avoid the texts, those texts are back again the moment you turn the phone on. So there is no escaping.

Finally, when I asked all of them to share their reaction to the idea of giving someone "bad news" -- "you're fired" or "we are breaking up" -- by text message, they saw it as tacky at best, cowardly at worst. The adjective "sleazy" came up more than once.

All said, texting certainly has proven to be indispensable, especially useful when time and information are critical.

Moreover, it is the backbone of social media, demonstrating its power time and again to reach far and wide and proving that it can galvanize public opinion, turn out the votes, and even foster revolution.

Yet, like most things we encounter in life, there are limitations.

Ultimately, it is what we do with the wonders of technology. And there must be no substitute for simple courtesy and serious conversation.

If Bill Gates -- widely credited with coining the phrase "Content is King" in an article he wrote with that title in 1996 -- is right, there is hope that content will trump technology, not the other way around.