by Scott Morton

Drivers haphazardly change lanes without so much as a flash of… what’s that device called on the steering column? Emails, voice mails go unanswered. Hosts hound those who they’ve invited to RSVP so they know how much food to order. Does it seem like people are less considerate than they used to be? Are there more times when people are downright rude? How about human kindness and politeness? Do those acts balance the scales of human behavior?

Sociologist Jeff Rothstein says people haven’t changed; circumstances have. “Technology speeds everything up. We’re still basically the same people capable of processing information so we may feel overworked and harried.” Rothstein says mankind is still adopting to the new technologies which inundate most of our lives whether it’s mobile devices, Smart Phones or all the apps designed to make our lives easier. Try going to a restaurant without seeing someone engaged with their cell phone; not the person they’re with.

“It’s a mixed bag and we have always had to navigate it,” Rothstein says. “It seems like the technology is invading our lives.” That, Rothstein says can harm as well as help us socially. We can communicate quicker and more efficiently in a variety of ways and thanks to social media we can interact with more people.

Rothstein, who’s been an associate sociology professor at Grand Valley State University for six years, teaches about a hundred students a semester. Some he says claim to have five thousand friends on Facebook. “That requires conceptualizing friendship in a way that we didn’t do in the past. On one hand we communicate with more and more people; on the other hand people sometimes feel more isolated.” According to Rothstein, it’s because while people use Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and other social media to keep in touch, some people don’t socialize face-to-face as much as they used to.

For anyone who remembers having to make an appointment with their college professor if they had a question or problem with an assignment, now students shoot off a quick email to their teacher and boom they’re back in business. “Now my students can communicate with me and remain anonymous because even though I have their name, I do not always place a name with a face.” “It’s almost the age-old story of technology; it brings us tremendous benefits and efficiencies, but it can also cause problems adopting to it. It can add more work and stress. People can misuse it.”

Food for thought the next time your cell phone rings in the middle of a conversation. Do you answer it, check the caller ID and let it go to voice mail or do you let the person who you’re talking with finish their sentence before doing anything because it’s the considerate thing to do?