03/20/2013 09:21 am ET | Updated May 20, 2013

The Age of Impoliteness

If manners maketh man, man is falling apart.

Take tardiness. Lateness does not equal greatness, but recently I've observed that more and more people must believe it to be so. They allocate a time to rendezvous, then text when you're on the way to meet them at the appointed hour, that they are going to be twenty minutes late because they are "running behind". The sole time this sort of message is remotely forgivable, is if the person being met is receiving a tangible favor from the encounter. Otherwise, a meeting should only be delayed in this way if either party could not possibly have yet left their prior location. Traffic exists. Rain usually occurs according to forecasts. Taxis can be hard to find. Subway trains stop for a few minutes for no apparent reason. You leave enough time to make it on time. I do not believe that I'm remarkable enough to wait for. Vast numbers of people obviously think themselves far more significant.

On arrival at a modern meeting, too often if the mobile phone is put away, much is made of it being hidden. Why? Surely it should be common courtesy if you are meeting with someone to focus your attention on them. If there was something more vital, you should be off doing that, not subjecting some poor person to watching you stare at a blinking screen for an hour as you "check-in" on Facebook or tweet where you are. You may be present but you are not correct.

Then there is the matter of the handwritten thank you letter. Sometimes a text or an email is sufficient to express gratitude. But there are multiple occasions, such as a stay in someone's house or the receipt of a thoughtful gift, where there is no substitute for putting pen to paper. It takes two minutes to write. How difficult is it to gather a supply of notecards and stamps? Beyond the ability of far too many and worse yet, some people seem unable to even send electronic thanks. Or bother with basic spelling and grammar.

The odd typo or grammatical lapse we can all forgive. I admit that I'm somewhat fond of the split infinitive and a conversational tone of typing that would make my English Language teacher shudder. But how is it possible in the age of spellcheck to spell "definitely" wrong? Or have no clue about apostrophes when a helpful green line appears under the offending item in "Word"? It's not deficiency of education; it's sheer laziness on the part of the author and lack of respect for the person on the receiving end of the missive. Is the sender really so busy and important that they can't do a quick "Google" check on a word or phrase they are unsure of?

Perhaps I am just getting old. Maybe it's the new normal to arrive twenty minutes late, to arrange a meeting so you can spend its duration broadcasting to the world where your physical but not mental presence is and to never snail mail. But I'm nostalgic for a time where landlines didn't belong in a museum and of punctual people who wrote thank you notes with apostrophes placed in the correct location.

Solomon ibn Gabirol, the eleventh century philosopher, said that the "test of good manners is to be patient with the bad ones". Truer words were never spoken.

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