change, communication, emotions, psychology, real world, San Francisco, technology

Is Online Communication Making Us More Rude Offline?

Stephanie Tanner

Riding home on the metro a few weeks ago, I was one of many San Franciscan sardines commuting after a long day at work. As was to be expected with the abrupt stop-and-gos of the train and the complete lack of personal space, my fellow passengers and I accepted that things were going to get physical. I held a pole for balance while my other arm held an open book in front of my chest. My goal was to take up as little of the horizontal plane as possible.

A quarter of the way into my ride, our train came to a screeching halt between stops. We were thrown into each other then bounced away on impact. Returning from my bounce, I was met with the stern face of the man next to me. His eyes widened.

“Don’t! DO NOT step on my shoes again.”

I looked back at him and then the people around us. Unsure how to respond, I nodded my head and went back to my book. But I couldn’t pay attention to the words on the page. The man’s words had taken over my brain.

How could he possibly have thought I was doing it on purpose? I wondered. It happened onceWhat should I have said in response? 

It wasn’t as much what the man had said, but the way he had said it. It was raw. Rude. And left no room for response. It was as if he had yelled into a vacuum. Except, the vacuum was my face.

His statement may have been better suited for Twitter:

Tweet From Subway Scrooge

Suggested Tweet

Overcome with an irrational desire to reconcile our differences, I finally looked up from my book and back at him. “You realize I obviously wasn’t doing it intentionally,” I said as if we knew each other.

Now it was his turn not to respond. Without acknowledging my comment, he exited the train at the next stop.

The second he did, I looked at the people who had been around us. “Public transit is not the right choice if you’re concerned about people stepping on your shoes,” I said to no one in particular. The no ones chuckled.

At first, I attributed the man’s rudeness to workday stress or the psychology of big cities..

But since that evening, I’ve witnessed countless other examples of unquestionable rudeness in both intimate and large settings, cities, and situations. Time and again — at a church, on a plane, in an academic building, at a restaurant — people seemingly failed to recognize social cues or simply didn’t care that the strangers they encountered were actual people. They said and did things that were completely inappropriate for face-to-face interaction. They were volcanoes exploding with rudeness.

It hasn’t always been like this, has it?

There has been a large body of research to show that the internet leads to antisocial and rude behaviors by lowering our self-control and increasing anonymity.

But given my recent observations, I can’t help but wonder whether the internet is also making us more rude in person.

The same way we unapologetically send off an emotionally charged email, politically charged Facebook status, or sadistically charged Tweet, are we becoming more comfortable with sending off rude comments IRL? Is this miserable social media norm transforming into an offline social norm as well? In a recent national survey, 70% of people blamed technology for the spike in real-world disrespect.

Beyond my anecdotes, there are scientific reasons to believe that this might be the case.

In his expansive research on multi-tasking in tech, Stanford Professor Clifford Nass found that the brains of “high-tech jugglers” may be in trouble. “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.”

Each time we communicate with real humans, we’re switching contexts, likely from something electronic. We’re turning our attention away from our email inbox, away from our Facebook feed, away from the text we’re writing in order to speak or listen to the person in front of us. Most of the time, we don’t turn our attention fully away. It’s a sad fact, but one we can’t ignore.

In our attempts to juggle online and offline communication, we might be bringing the antisocial rude behaviors of the internet into the real world. If we struggle to switch from one online task to another, what’s to say that we don’t struggle to switch from robotic internet communication to emotional real-life communication? Our 140-character lives are affecting our personal character.

While some may argue that rudeness is difficult to control online, there’s certainly something we can do about it offline.

How can we stop the rudeness?

twitter heartThere’s no place to report real people as offensive or block them altogether. However, we can be the ones to lead by example, to take it in stride, and to politely remind our rude community members that we too, are fellow humans. Unlike many of the other problems we face as a community, this is one we can rather easily and effectively solve.

We can consider our platforms and understand our environments before we dive in.

Put another way: Whether you’re communicating online or off, go for Likes.

emotions, experiencing, family, memories, Mini Cooper, product design, psychology, technology

I got no car and it’s breaking my heart

At age 16, I failed my first driving test. It wasn’t that I was a bad driver, but driving just made me nervous. What didn’t help the test was a grumpy man in the passenger seat who likely started working at DMV when cars were invented. Though I eventually passed, my initial failure was debilitating. I told myself that I was a bad driver, but oh well, I hated driving.

My defense mechanism was to avoid driving as much as possible for the rest of high school. This is nearly impossible when you live in the Bay Area, but I forced it to work, relying on my legs or other drivers. When I absolutely needed to, I borrowed one of two family-owned SUVs. As a 5’2″ female, I found the massive size of these vehicles (and their turn radii) to be anxiety-inducing.

I still remember one of my first solo-driving experiences. I drove to a restaurant to meet my friends. After dinner, we all walked into the parking lot to our respective cars. I got in “mine” and turned on the radio, making no further effort to leave. I didn’t want any friends watching as I pulled out of my parking spot. In psychology, social facilitation explains how having an audience magnifies skill when you’re good at something — and further diminishes skill when you consider yourself bad at something.

After five minutes, I started the engine:

Rear-view mirror. Inch back. Keep the wheel straight. Rear-view mirror. Inch back. Slowly and jerkily, I removed the car from its spot, gaining confidence with each foot tap and release. Yes, almost there. Release. Inch back. Press. Release. Inch ba- Screeeeech. I slammed the breaks.

My rhythm was thwarted by fierce honking. I looked into the rear-view mirror to see a parked car millimeters behind me. I had almost crashed. To my side, I saw the honking to have come from a friend’s car. Horrified (but thankful), I returned straight into my spot allowing her to pass. From then on, I parked as far as possible from my destination so as not to be spotted by people I knew. And after high school, I attended college in Philadelphia where, to my relief, students didn’t need or have cars.

For my last three months of college, I was more distraught by the fact that I would soon need to drive thirteen-miles (in Bay Area traffic) to and from work each day than the fact that college was ending.

On December 6, 2010, I signed a lease for a hardtop, British racing green BMW Mini Cooper. I was initially apprehensive, but I needed a way to get around. As I got a feel for a vehicle that wasn’t a monster SUV, I, for the first time, felt relaxed behind the wheel — on freeways, turning, parking, and reversing. I started to enjoy driving and by January, was in love with my car.

But it wasn’t just because of the size. With dealership-organized events like owner gift-exchanges and cross-country drives, having a Mini was like being a part of a cool secret society. Simply seeing another Mini on the road was comforting. During the day, it was sunroof open, windows down, music blasting. At night, it was driver-seat-dancing under the car’s disco lights.

It was a car with character. It gave me character.

Occasionally, I would find myself wondering if it was all true. I’d look down at my keychain to confirm, “Wow! I have a Mini!” After years of hating driving and detesting cars, I now couldn’t believe I had a car that I loved. It’s kind of like getting a boyfriend after being perpetually single.

For three years, my Mini literally and figuratively transported me through the most formative years of my post-graduate life, including a breakup, my grandma’s death, the happiest six months of my first job, and my most difficult family conversation. This car, my first posession as a working woman, drove me into adulthood.

Two weeks ago, I drove my Mini to the dealership. The lease was ending and now that I live and work in San Francisco, I have no need for a car. Returning it was the difficult but adult decision. Ten minutes after entering the dealership, one car investigation and two signatures later, I was walking out of the parking lot with tears in my eyes and knots in my stomach. It wasn’t like a breakup. It was one.

Ownership psychology explains the sense of “mine” that I felt for my leased vehicle, an object I never legally owned. In their 2002 research paper, Pierce et al. write, “It is common for people to psychologically experience the connection between self and various targets of possession such as homes, automobiles, space, and other people. Possessions come to play such a dominant role in the owner’s identity, that they become part of the extended self.” While there are tons of cars out there and tons of Mini Coopers for that matter, mine was special to me because of how it changed me and the unique personal experiences we shared. The family SUVs were never able to connect with me at that level.

Though this piece serves mostly as an ode to my Mini, it also serves to demonstrate how the success of a product single-handedly rests in its ability to create an emotional experience. Functionality and appearance are only the half of it. Those qualities are required. But an inanimate product that comes alive with empathy, that makes us feel an emotion, that a human can love — that is a product with value.

That is a product that will drive humanity’s progress

amazon, basketball, childhood, createspace, descending the corporate ladder, duncan, emotions, illusions, nba, novella, psychology, self-publishing

“Any emotion, if it is sincere, is involuntary.” -Mark Twain

“So there’s absolutely nothing you can do? I really need these books to arrive by Saturday.”

“Well, we don’t ship on weekends.”

“Okay fine, by Friday.”

“Well, you need to understand we’re a warehouse. We can only start printing once you order your books. Sometimes we end up with a pretty long queue of books to print.”

“So there’s absolutely nothing you can do?” Much like the lump that was now trapped in my throat, I was trapped in a cyclical conversation.

Last Monday, I was notified that a pre-release version of my novella was approved for printing by Amazon (I’m self-publishing through their platform). I was celebrating my book with friends and family the following Saturday, and wanted to have physical copies present. I knew I was cutting it close by ordering the final ones less than a week before I needed them, but my proofs had arrived within two days the week prior. As I sat there listening to the friendly voice saying things I didn’t want to hear, I was overcome by raw, instinctual sadness. The kind of sadness that is conceived by helplessness. The kind of sadness that constitutes childlike disappointment.

Staring at my breakfast and realizing that I quite possibly would not have copies of my book to hand out at my book launch party, I thought about what I could have done differently. Maybe if you hadn’t slept early two Fridays ago. Maybe if you hadn’t gone to dinner on Saturday. You could have finished editing two days earlier. While they could make me feel worse about the situation, my thoughts couldn’t fix it.

I gloomily packed up and made my way to work. The first part of the day trudged along, I smiled and laughed but the persistent lump in my throat made it impossible for me to feel at ease.

I texted my family saying, “There’s a small chance that my books won’t make it by Saturday. It’s not the end of the world, but FYI.” My detached tone couldn’t change how I really felt, but I was embarrassed by the facts. My parents’ response indicated a sort of worry. One that wondered why it seemed that I didn’t care about this important day in my life.

In psychology, the illusion of control explains a tendency to overestimate our ability to control outcomes. The illusion of control is just that, an illusion. While there are many problems about it, the most important one is that we end up blaming ourselves when things that we never actually controlled, go the wrong way. There was nothing I could do about the fluctuating demand of Amazon’s printing press.

Last Thursday, in the final moments of the NBA championship, Tim Duncan missed a shot that could have tied the game. Though he is typically stoic, after the miss, Duncan’s face said it all. It was over, and there was nothing he could do about it. It was that childlike sadness that is caused by disproportional regret.  As I watched Duncan sit on the bench watching the end of the game, I found myself loving him for looking so sad. His mess-up was already haunting him and to me that meant that he really truly, deeply cared. It reminded me of the previous Monday and the news of the my books. While I was rather agnostic to the winner of the championship, I found myself more sad for one individual than happy for an entire winning team at the end of the game.

On that fateful book order Monday, I checked my email around 2 PM. There was only one. Its subject? “CreateSpace Order 343145265 has Shipped.” What? Shipped? I didn’t even think they could print the copies this week, let alone ship them. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get them in time? How? What? I was in disbelief. I was going to have books for the party!

In today’s social world, we only see the best of other people — their lucky breaks and beautiful escapes. It’s easy to forget that what we see is seen through a (literal) filter. In turn, we begin to filter our own raw emotion and hide our true feelings, even from ourselves.


As I realized last week, it’s okay to be visibly, childishly sad once in a while. It makes you human. It helps others connect with you at the deepest level. It shows love for whatever it is that you are pursuing. It represents passion. And if you do it right, your raw emotion, like most children’s emotions, will be short-lived. With some turn of events, be it hard work or fate, your sadness will be quickly replaced by a childlike excitement. And if you haven’t experienced it, believe you me, it’s a feeling worth being sad for.

childhood, decisions, emotions, facades

Foolish Heart

I consider myself to have a pretty strong hold of my emotions. I am not flighty or especially over- or under-sensitive. Though current research in Neuroeconomics would probably tell us otherwise, I am, on the whole, rational about my goals, motivations, and choices. So naturally, I am always taken by surprise when my emotions trick me. When, with an air of superiority, my emotions laugh in my face, mocking me for thinking that I was in control.

In the fifth grade, something awful happened to my group of friends. A group of friends that had, since kindergarten, been on the same soccer team (The Red Panthers, that’s who we appreciate!) and traded germs and gummy worms on the playground year after year. But that year, there was trouble in paradise. The weird part is that it just sort of crept up on us.

Names changed to protect the identity of people with whom I now connect and share my life via Facebook:

One day on the playground, Emily created an imaginary person named Square (Emily really liked geometry? I am still unsure why she named a person after a shape, but to each her own). “Nobody likes Square,” she told us. She told us horrible stories about Square to the point that none of us could ever imagine being friends with Square, or even a person like Square, for that matter.

A week or so after the conception of Square, Emily told me a secret. One of many secrets I wish I had never been told. “Square,” she said to me with that mature air that most ten-year-olds can only hope for, “is Gina.” Gina, one of the other girls in our group. I was shocked. I was in utter disbelief that there was a disconnect within my picture perfect group of friends. The group then split in half, the Pro- and Anti-Square (Gina) camps. I found myself caught in between (some things never change). What followed were frequent lunch-time meetings with our teacher who tirelessly tried to reconcile a group of friends who she had seen evolve from the ripe age of five.

Things were never the same between us, and after that year, some of us moved to the middle school next door, some of us stayed at the elementary school, and one of us moved on to a private school a couple miles away (K-life).

To this day, I still grapple with the fact that Square was completely fabricated. What had started out as a joke, as a figment of Emily’s imagination had taken the form of a real human being through Gina. And it could have been anyone, really. Emily and Gina had been the best of friends before the incident, but as Emily’s character “Square” became more and more real, she finally decided to give it the identify of someone who actually existed, and someone she knew well (think Steppenwolf).

And I have (as I’m sure we all have) continued to be a pawn in this game of emotions as I’ve grown older.

My first semester of college was a struggle. I was meeting interesting people and enjoying my classes, but I simply had not yet “found my place.” To be blunt, I was not happy. But I didn’t want to worry my parents or friends, so, when I went home for Fall Break in October, I told them that I absolutely loved college and that everything was going swimmingly. And repeating my statement only made me believe it (oh how I love cognitive dissonance). Or so I thought: As I walked to the gate to board my plane back to college, tears started to stream from my eyes. And I couldn’t stop them.

This was disconcerting for me on two levels. Firstly, I thought I had forgotten how to cry, which, clearly, was not the case, so I was generally surprised. And more importantly, I was nervous that I had no control over my emotions. I was not completely content with college, and my emotions weren’t going to let me think otherwise. I could lie to others, but I simply could not lie to myself.

And with each day that passes by, I’m coming to realize that’s what it comes down to. We all have our facades — of happiness, of confidence, of satisfaction, the list could go on forever. And while these feelings may often be founded on something true and genuine, sometimes we might just be trying to fool others. When does a joke stop being a joke? When does disappointment turn into misery? When does apathy turn into concern?

This lack of control over our emotions doesn’t necessarily mean you need to discount yourself, your actions, or the emotions you think you feel. Sure, they say that everybody is somebody’s fool. Just, don’t be your own.

emotions, friendship, punishment

When Angry, Count Four; When Very Angry, Swear.

Years of English teachers have tried to hammer to my core that words have monetary values. Those three-letter words like sad and mad were supposedly “cheap” while synonyms like anger and fury were “rich.” As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to realize that word-length is not positively correlated with word-value. It’s all about the semantics. Anger is mean-spirited. It makes enemies. It ignites war. It is arguably foolish and usually replaceable by some constructive action. Anger is authoritative discipline. Mad is much more valuable, though, because of the emotion that is attached to it. Mad is for a specific reason and directed at someone you truly care about.

When I moved to a new school in the sixth grade, the first friend I made quickly became one of my closest. And while I could dedicate an entire blog to the high points of our friendship, I’m going somewhere else with this: I still remember our first fight (that it occurred, not what sparked it). It was that same year, the sixth grade. She was walking fast so I wouldn’t be able to catch up with her, but I wasn’t letting my years of soccer running drills go to waste. I kept asking her why she was mad but she was giving me the silent treatment. But giving up wasn’t an option. This friendship was, simply put, invaluable. I felt sick to my stomach. The only thought running through my head was, “I can’t believe I did something to make her, of all people, get mad at me.” Though I didn’t see it then, that fight made our friendship exponentially stronger.

There are certain people in my life that I just cannot stand to have upset with me. Ideally, I wouldn’t want anyone to be upset with me, but nobody’s perfect, right?

Though it’s a bit ironic, I personally believe the opposite to be true as well. We only get truly mad at those about whom we care the most. Sure we might curse at the biker who splashes us as he rides through a puddle or glare at the person who orders the last bagel. But these small frustrations are never long-lasting. They simply aren’t worth it. (I never read “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” but I surmise that it is loosely based on this idea.) But with our close friends and family, it’s completely different. We don’t think of them as people who would wrong us or upset us. We shouldn’t think of them as people who would make us mad (meaning upset, not insane. This is probably debatable in some families.) So when things do go awry, we are caught off guard. We are hurt and we are mad at this person who we never expected to hurt us.

But in a twisted way, getting upset proves that you care. You want your loved ones to be the best that they can be, and when they falter, your response navigates them in the right direction. This is most certainly not to be confused with holding a grudge. Being mad is not forever. One has wronged. The other is hurt. But they meet somewhere in the middle.

I’d never admit this to my parents, but I never cared when they grounded me. It was so commercial. I spent more time thinking about how I could sneak in a television show or two than about the reason I was grounded in the first place. But the times that my mom gave me the silent treatment, I knew that I had upset her. And all I wanted to do was fix things. To prove to her that I was worthy enough to speak to.

Winston Churchill once said, “A man is about as big as the things that make him angry.” Although he was probably alluding to the foolishness of being angered by little annoyances, I am going to offer an alternate explanation. A situation involving someone you deeply care about is big. And if this big thing is making you mad, you must be a pretty big man. And now, to disagree with another great, it’s never too late to apologize.