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People always talk about how much cell phones and Facebook have ruined society’s ability to talk to each other face to face, and  generally I have scoffed at the suggestion. I mean, I still spend the majority of my waking hours talking to real people, and don’t rely on Facebook to keep me in touch with my friends.

However, I am starting to see their point of view, where I could never before. I don’t necessarily think that the internet and social networking sites are creating a generation of illiterates, incapable of communicating without a Blackberry in their hands, but I do think that the growing number of online forums and networking sites, has contributed to a decline in manners and the anonymous nature of the internet has created a culture where it is deemed acceptable to say whatever you want to the person on the other side of the computer, with no regard for their feelings.

‘Cyber Bullying’ has become a fashionable tag line for politicians and school administrators. However, cyber bullying isn’t only a problem for teenagers who are harassed by other kids at school, on social networking sites. Cyber bullying can be seen, at least to a certain extent, with the way people talk to each other on online forums, online magazines or even with the pictures and video they upload to sites like YouTube and Facebook. I was always told, as I’m sure a lot of people were, that ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all’. And although most people live by this in their daily life, when they are let loose on the web, this no longer seems to apply, and all their inhibitions seem to fade away. For example some of what is written on this website at times, is cruel stuff, stuff that you would never say to somebody face to face. So why then do people think that it’s cool to write it down? Is it simply because you don’t have to see the person about whom the comment is written?

The issue of anonymity and the lack of inhibitions it creates can probably be seen best on Facebook. I know people who wouldn’t say boo to a goose in real life, but create arguments on Facebook, simply because they can. It also seems that people get petty with social networking, and will ‘de-friend’ someone, even someone the are close with in real life, for next to no reason at all, yet they will not actually  physically talk to the person they have the problem with.

For example, just before Christmas, I received a phone call from a friend who was losing the plot over something she read on Facebook. A  conversation between two mutual friends had come up on her news feed, which, for all you non Facebookers out there, (if there are any left), is basically, just a web page telling you everything that all your friends have done on Facebook since you last logged on, such as added photos, changed their status, updated their location information, relationship status blah blah blah. Anyway, my friend, who we shall call ‘Lily’, was mad about what she read between people we shall call ‘Jasper’ and ‘Sam’. They were discussing how they needed to cut out their old friends from their lives (meaning Lily, and some others). To make a long story short, earlier this week, she called me again, to tell me that both Jasper and Sam, had ‘de-friended’ her on Facebook.

She hasn’t spoken to either of them in at least a few months, and before they de-friended’ her, I don’t think she was really too bothered about whether or not she spoke to them again. What bothered her the most, I think, was the fact that being ‘de-friended’ on Facebook, is generally not done, as, for some people at least, having hundreds of Facebook friends is very important. And so as silly as it is, being de-friended’, and by someone you actually know personally can be quite hurtful (even when you only keep them as a friend, so you can stalk their status updates and photos). Being de friended, is an abrupt, kinda rude way, of cutting someone out of your life. What makes it rude is the fact that there is no personal aspect to it. Would you actually tell someone in person that you never want to hear from them again? Probably not, but I know that everyone has deleted at least one person from Facebook, and probably didn’t think anything of it.

However, losing our manners doesn’t just refer to bullying, or ‘de-friending’. Even simple things, like sending out invites, or calling to thank someone for a birthday or Christmas gift, seems to have fallen by the wayside with the explosion of the web. In the last few weeks, I cannot even tell you the amount of events I have been invited to from friends on Facebook. But, even for ‘serious’ events, such as baby showers and twenty first birthdays, I did not receive even one hard copy invite. Last year, a very good friend of mine, who at the time hadn’t jumped on the Facebook bandwagon, wasn’t even invited to an event, because the party planner didn’t even think to double check who of their (very good) friends wasn’t invited. Oh, and while I’m at it, how many of  us have just clicked ‘not attending’ to an event, and not even bothered to tell the host why?. I also attended a wedding in the middle of last year, and got a text thanking me for my attendance and gift. I mean really? I know we’re all busy, and I don’t want to sound like a whining grandma, busting out the ‘back in my day…’, but how hard is it really to write on a damn card?.

I don’t know, you tell me, am I over reacting or has what is deemed acceptable behavior changed drastically with the explosion of social networking?

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