Impulse control is unfashionable as well as unpresidential, but perhaps you should resist the urge to trip people who stride briskly down the sidewalk fixated on their phone screens, absorbed in texting and feeling entitled to expect others to make way. New technologies are shaping behaviors and dissolving civilities.
In 2005, Lynne Truss, in her book “Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door,” presciently said we were slouching into “an age of social autism” with a “Universal Eff-Off Reflex.” Long before progress, understood as streaming, brought us binge-watching, she foresaw people entertaining themselves into inanition with portable technologies that enable “limitless self-absorption,” making people solipsistic and unmannerly. Truss foresaw an age of “hair-trigger sensitivity” and “lazy moral relativism combined with aggressive social insolence.” This was 12 years before some Wellesley College professors said, last month, that inviting controversial, a.k.a. conservative, speakers to campus injures students by forcing them to “invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers’ arguments.”
In the latest issue of the American Interest, the Hudson Institute’s Carolyn Stewart, revisiting Truss’s book, wonders, “What is it about social media that compels us to throw off the gloves?” Stewart notes that, as Truss anticipated, people “have taken an expectation that previously applied to the private sphere — control over our environment — and are increasingly applying it to the public sphere.” Social media’s “self-affirming feedback loop” encourages “expectations for a custom-made reality” and indignation about anything “that deviates from our preferences.”
The consequences of what Stewart calls “our growing intolerance of an unedited reality” are enumerated in Tom Nichols’s new book, “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign…