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Earlier this week, NY Times Executive Editor Bill Keller knowingly invited a Tweet Storm when he mused that an increase in the use of social media has diminished the complexity of thought and emotion. Keller was referring specifically to today’s youngsters, who are being raised on the limitations of expressing themselves in 140 characters or less, and the surreality of having 1,000 friends at age 13.

Keller also points out that his publication has benefitted mightily from the advent of Twitter, for example. He even cops to getting immense satisfaction from seeing his editorials and other journalistic endeavors “neatly bitly’d and shared around the Twittersphere.” But he worries what kind of negative emotional and ultimately societal blowback that social media has had on us now and will have on future generations.

I agree that while social media has been a revolutionary tool for those of us in the PR and media trades, it has also permanently altered how we interact with one another in every context. This was played out on an Amtrak train last week, where a woman talked loudly on her phone for SIXTEEN hours in the Quiet Car on the journey from Oakland to Portland, OR. While she was ultimately arrested at her destination for disorderly conduct, I wonder how long people waited before they started to complain. I know I put up with a lot more inappropriate, loud and bullish behavior from people on their phones and devices than I would have even 5 years ago.

The speed at which news travels and the ease with which anyone can communicate to masses of people has necessarily caused us to adapt our writing styles and our behavior by lowering our expectations. The ubiquity and utility of smartphones seems to be the culprit. Everyone has one or more, and uses them for both work and personal affairs. Therefore, when we see someone behaving badly on their phone, or when we receive a curt communication that could be construed of as rude, we react by relating to the perpetrator, rather than by judging harshly. In other words, sometimes it seems as though the inmates have overtaken the asylum! Another example is the total acceptance of TMZ into the TV and online realm of celebrity journalism. TMZ used to equal sleazy reporting and unusually aggressive news gathering tactics. Now their methods are industry standard for paparazzi and any story involving a public figure.

But in the “real world” the question is, is there necessarily a quid pro quo? Must we pay a price in civility for an increase in the speed and efficiency of communications? Do you think that the increase in the use of social media to sell goods and spark revolutions inevitably leads to the end of a society’s politesse, or is this another case of the older generation lamenting the loss of traditional mores in light of an intimidating technological revolution? Please join the conversation and let us know what you think!

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