Civilization Moving Backwards

July 19, 2011 at 8:38 pm 5 comments

I’m not even sure where to start writing, I’m so stupefied by what happened tonight. I’m angry, and disgusted, and finally completely bewildered as to how I can be so out of touch with society. Do you ever feel like that? You watch a large group of people doing and saying something you find horrifying, and you feel like maybe you left your house thinking you were in a Hayley Mills movie and no one told you Michael Bay was directing?

I went to an awesome event tonight. It pulled some true startup heroes onto a panel and introduced community management and customer evangelism to a big crowd of curious people. As someone who works in that area, I was pleased to see plenty of new faces and meet some very smart, motivated people who are hungry to get involved. At one point during the event, I snuck through the back of the room to head to the restroom. I was embarrassed to be so rude and hoped that my pregnant belly might offer a silent explanation for my behavior. I needn’t have worried.

Upon my return I decided to stand, and chose a spot out of the way and in between the room where the audience sat and a wide hallway with a few empty tables in it. Not long after I got back, the speakers wrapped up their presentations and were invited to sit on a panel for audience Q & A. The MC mentioned that food was on its way and before he could explain that we would get to it as soon as the quick Q & A was over, about ten people got out of their seats and walked over to the tables as servers placed food on them. Look, I’m five months pregnant, so you don’t have to tell me twice about being desperate for chips and salsa. But I thought that was kind of rude. As the Q & A got underway, another ten people got up. And then another. Soon the large open hallway was filled with people, piling food onto their plates then standing around talking. One man sitting next to me took a phone call. Two people stood directly in front of me and began talking, and when I tapped them and said, “Excuse me” and pointed to the panel I was trying to pay attention to, they seemed rather put out and stood next to me instead to continue their conversation. There was no whispering, no murmuring, not any sign from easily more than half of the audience that had originally gathered that they were, in fact, there to hear the people on the panel.

Was it because it was a free event? Was it because the event was held in the back room of a bar? Was it because human civility has eroded so far as to become nonexistent? I have puzzled since leaving as to what could have caused such an incredible show of disrespect by so many people, and I can’t come up with anything that holds any water. I was furious when I left the event, but by the time I got home to start typing this I was just sad and tired and confused.

Have you been to professional events where people were anything but? Would you also have wanted to kick the guy on his phone in the nads? (sidebar: he introduced himself to me later as I was having a conversation, and it turns out that speaking on a cell phone in the middle of an event is as polite as he gets.) I know there’s no real solution, no answer. I guess behavior like that makes me feel a little lonely, and I’m seeking some sign of friendly life out there on the interwebs to let me know that I (and Miss Manners) are not alone.

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Entry filed under: Boston, career, jerks, marketing, professional, social media, stress, weird.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. stacyjj  |  July 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Ugh, I feel your anger. I stopped participating in these events when I realized that most who attend are only there to find new jobs, or use the event as a conduit to project their own professional insecurities. They could care less about absorbing a real educational opportunity and participating in appropriate professional networking. Tasteless, mannerless = Stacy-less.

    Reply
  • 2. Petra armer  |  July 19, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    Hi Jen. As a teacher I am exposed to rudeness every day and it still boggles my mind. Our society no longer seems to demand politeness. So many people have this feeling of being entitled. Entitled to behave rudely, do what they want when they want, and be generally disrespectful. I was thinking about it and I think the problem is that everyone has rights yet no one has responsibilities. This next generation will be even worse. They are the generation that received “participation trophies”, credit for having tried, not for having done a good job. Our school now does not allow us to assign a grade of less than 50 for the first 3/4 of the year. Those who get 20’s still get 50 on their report card. The kid who earned a 60 wonders why he tried, the kid who gets the 50 gets it for nothing. Why should he work for it? No responsibility, no push to try harder. When we got bad grades we knew we had to try harder. Now the thought is let’s give them points so they don’t give up. No need to be respectful, I’ll get what I want anyway. Sad.

    Reply
    • 3. Wardegus  |  July 19, 2011 at 10:07 pm

      Jenny, the post was great. I can’t stand rudeness and I think there a lot of people who see the words “free food” and all manners go out the window. That being said, I take personal issue with Petra’s comment. A lot of people claim that these younger generations manners are getting worse and worse. I am from the “participation trophies” generation and I’m pretty sure I have a fair amount of those in mother’s basement. But when I was a child and even a young adult, I wasn’t asking for those trophies. I wasn’t a six year-old child telling my softball coach that if I don’t get a trophy like everyone else in my league my self-esteem will be negatively affected. Yes, your hands are tied with your school and everyone getting extra points, but some adult somewhere made that decision. I sincerely doubt that any of the people that Jenny encountered were in your class and I think that generalizing an entire generation is also rude.

      Reply
  • 4. Meg  |  July 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Amen, Jenny, Stacy, and Stefanie. Totally agree that a lot of these events have turned into free-for-alls where “connecting” (forcing yourself on someone you want to hire you/refer you/etc) is happening at the expense of manners and consideration. Many of the presenters take time to offer value, but people just want to hit the buffet and introduce themselves enough to feel justified in hitting people up on LinkedIn.

    That’s why I skip so many events now — people aren’t networking, they’re stalking.

    And Stefanie is right — this isn’t a generational thing. I see 50 y.o. people behaving this way, and acting entitled to behave however they want. They only care about how many people they can @ on Twitter when they get home, and follow up with an email begging for an intro to a prospective employer.

    I think it’s an industry thing — entitlement masquerading as entrepreneurialism.

    Reply
  • 5. Jennifer Spencer  |  July 20, 2011 at 6:38 am

    To Petra’s point, as a teacher she has a unique perspective in that she’s addressing the same age group year after year, and the changes that occur from generation to generation are probably more prevalent in her eyes. Also, teenagers are assholes. Despite any parent’s best efforts I think we can all look back and agree that our 16 year old worlds were fairly self centered. There was just so much happening every day to try to understand – how could I comprehend a war in Iraq when I could barely understand my friends or myself from one day to the next?

    I guess I figured that we all outgrow that phase, but I think the people who end up the subject of this post are the people who don’t, to Stefanie’s point, and end up becoming coaches or parents who over-protect and over-reward and generally try to keep the shit-kickiness of life out of their way. And some kids will embrace that and go on to be people like that with kids like that, continuing the cycle, and some will break out of it.

    I’d argue that I think age does contribute to it, but I also think location and class contribute as well, although not really in a discernible pattern. There are people who just don’t think the rules apply to them, whether they buy their way through life or whether they’re putting up armor against a society that doesn’t much want to include them anyway. There are and always have been people who will think their shit doesn’t stink, but overall doesn’t it seem like things have shifted and there are less of us who broke out of it and more people on the train, in the classroom, at the office, who are perpetuating the cycle?

    Speaking of age, the guy on his cell phone and the people standing in front of me looked to be in their 50s, and most of the people in the hallway were probably in their 20s and 30s, which makes me think that Meg is right in this instance and that it’s an industry thing. Hell maybe the anonymity of internet communication (you can make up any username and avatar and email address you want) has given us all balls we wouldn’t have had before and maybe shouldn’t have had in the first place.

    The other side of this coin is how people react. I wondered as I watched the talking crowd get larger if it was more appropriate for the MC to step in and ask the people talking to either come back into the room for the rest of the event or step into the bar area, which was far enough away that they wouldn’t have bothered anyone, or if soldiering through was the best solution. Why didn’t any of us speak up? Is it because we were afraid that one of the participants would react badly, and it’s just not worth riling people up? (Don’t even get me started about earlier that day when a woman in DTX threatened to fist fight me because I had to yell EXCUSE ME to a tourist who wasn’t looking and was heading right for my belly with his elbows – the woman wasn’t even with the guy, she just thought I had no right to protect myself because it’s a heavy tourist traffic area and when I argued my point she threatened to hit me.) Is it because it was a crowd and no one feels like they alone can argue with crowd behavior? Is it because of the attitude I bump into sometimes of “Well, you live in a city” or “This is Boston for ya. If you don’t like it, move?” Is it because I’m just too sensitive?

    In the end maybe it’s not the answer to “Why?” I should be puzzling on, so much as “What can we do?”

    Reply

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