Visiting bloggers

Ellen Alperstein

In the early 1980s, with the world in full thrall with all things electronic--the Walkman, voicemail, personal computers--a few cautionary voices articulated the hope that the smitten would also embrace the concept of "high-tech high-touch." To those approaching the starting line of online, it was a clarion call that efficiency can be cold and that cold can be bad for warm-blooded creatures.

One inflight magazine of the era featured a cover photograph of a buff male torso whose cut arms enveloped a Commodore computer monitor depicting a bright red heart shape. You are cutting edge, was the message, you are tough. Don't forget to be nice.

How quaint.

Item: A woman who has rented the same house for 40 years, cultivating its garden and loving it like her own, is out of town when a "for sale" sign is posted in the yard. The tenant is unaware she is being uprooted until her neighbor calls to find out where she's moving.

Item: A department manager who has trusted a longtime employee enough to have confided details of their colleagues' marital issues, lays off the worker in a one-sentence dismissal scripted by the company's lawyers.

Item: After the tenants of a home for sale have left for the day, a real estate agent tapes a notice to the front door requiring them to be available at 9 a.m. the following day to admit his client for a walk-through. The tenants return home late at night and attempt to contact the agent to inform him that they have early-morning commitments and cannot return home until 11 a.m. They fail to reach him, but leave a message. At 9 the next morning the agent telephones in a rage about having complied with the law for 24-hour notice, and demands immediate access.

Item: A website content-provider advertises for editors and requires candidates to apply online. If their credentials pass professional muster by unseen, unknown reviewers, they are invited to take an editing test online. The company provides no contact name, nor number, nor email address. The fee offered for the work is $3.50 per article, paid exclusively through PayPal.

Whether it's a response to technological expedience, a swooning economy or Mercury moving into retrograde, the coarsening of our culture has gone beyond the impersonal talk-radio rant, the fleetingly offensive road-rage gesticulation and the lookie-loo appeal of celebrity meltdown. We have become an arm's-length community of wagon-circlers adept at motion but bereft of compassion for the people we encounter at close quarters. Incivility has moved in next door, next cubicle, next relationship, and it's corrosive. It's as if we all have possession of our own remotes, and insist on raising the volume for fear of having to address a priority not our own.

Of course the landlady has the right to sell her property whenever she wants, but doesn't a successful 40-year relationship deserve a phone call?

Of course the manager must protect the company's legal exposure in laying off an employee, but why should covering your ass leave your friend feeling naked?

Of course the prospective home-buyer is entitled to see an occupied property after following the rules of advance notice, but why should convenience trump common sense, much less human decency?

Of course a business can establish whatever job-screening process it deems satisfactory, but has supply so overwhelmed demand that first-impression is consigned to the remainder bin of outer Ludditeland?

Whatever the stimuli, these days our best defense has become a good offense no matter how offensive. Our climate is warming, but our social temperature is cold, and, people, winter is here.

Ellen Alperstein is an essayist whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and other newspapers.

© 2003-2015   •  About LA Observed  •  Email the editor
Follow LAO
Kevin Roderick blog
11:49 AM Mon | The Twitter feed is curated and updated most days. Posting to the blogs is more sporadic.
12:59 AM Mon | 'In on merit' at USC
Mark Lacter, LA Biz Observed
2:07 PM Sat | The funeral for Mark Lacter will be held Sunday, Nov. 24 at 12 noon at Hillside Memorial Park, 6001 W. Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles 90045. Reception to follow.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Get RSS Feeds
of LA Observed
LA Observed publishes several Real Simple Syndication feeds for easy scanning of headlines. If you wish to subscribe to a feed, most popular RSS readers will do it for you. You can also enter the web address from the XML button below or click on a specific feed. For more help with RSS, try here or here.

Add to Google