Image via Salon.com and if you follow the link, you'll find Salon's review of the same book.
Let me start by saying, I really liked this book. I thought it was funny and very thought-provoking. (And I love the chapter titles.) Because of it, I've actually taken time to view my own good and bad manners, my ability to change certain things that I do in regards other people, social interactions.
I would also very often forget about the fact that the book is basically talking directly to me (and other audience members) and get caught up in the facts, the stories, the hilarity.
Henry Alford is quite funny, and I look forward to reading his other books.
But, at the same time, I sometimes found the book hard to follow. I felt it needed better organization. His transitions from subject to subject or paragraph to paragraph were quite jolting quite often - this more so at the book's beginning.
Also Alford would give examples for things he'd be talking about that didn't really seem to exemplify the thing talked about. I found myself confused quite a bit if I tried to over-think and connect the example to its antecedent. However, I also found that if I didn't try to over-think that connection, I found the example very funny. You'll chuckle almost every page of the book.
As the book progressed, Alford's chatty style really set in, and I found myself quite comfortably sitting at a outdoor table with a drink and some food and finding the company and the rambling conversation very enjoyable. (That's a metaphor. I never read the book outside, and actually finished the last chapter warmly ensconced in the bathtub.)
At its best, the book never had any of the jolting-ness or non sequiters that I mentioned above and I found that I didn't want it to end. At its best, the book could've been quite a bit longer. I would've been happy to listen to Alford daily, sort of like the gay Dear Abby or Miss Manners. Sadly, I don't think he has a column. Boo.
For your reading enjoyment (and apropos to a comment conversation Tim and I have been having)..."E-mail and the Lesser Angels":
As noted earlier, some people decry the Internet as the beginning of the end. For them, this Wild West is just a little too wild.
This is the medium that gave birth to the charming bit of badinage that is RTFM - an acronym for "Read the F#*$&%! Manual." Frankly, when it comes to Internet etiquette, isn't it too easy to blame the medium and not its users? A historical view would suggest that, in most cases, the protestations of the technologically reluctant are ultimately a source of ridicule. In her 1987 book When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communications in the Late Nineteenth Century, Carolyn Marvin points out that many Victorian Americans were just as vexed by the telegraph and telephone as later generations would be by television and the Internet. In 1884, a Philadelphia newspaper's editor exhorted its readers "not to converse by phone with ill persons for fear of contracting contagious diseases." In a commonly told joke about the advent of the telephone, a caller's anxious "Are you there? Are you there?" finds a country bumpkin on the other end of the line silently and repeatedly nodding his head. (Early jokes about the telephone were terribly amusing.)
Or, I suppose, you can go back even farther in time, to when the chatty Socrates got his toga in a twist over the advent of written language based on an alphabet. Socrates though scrolls would both erode memory and curb the back-and-forth exchange of ideas in real time.
The two main impediments to good online manners are the medium's incredible ease and its blankness of tone. On the former's front, an e-mailer's ability easily to reach out to someone else without having to look that person in the eyes (let alone pick up the phone or address a letter or fashion puffs of smoke into recognizable code) can spur on impulsiveness. "The speed of e-mail doesn't just make it easier to lose our cool," Will Schwalbe and David Shipley write in their book Send: The Essential Guide to E-mail for Office and Home - "it actually eggs us on." The authors posit that people aren't quiet themselves on e-mail, but are "angrier, less sympathetic, less aware, more easily wounded, even more gossipy and duplicitous." They conclude by noting how "e-mail has a tendency to encourage the lesser angels of our nature."
Indeed, not having to look into your interlocutor in the face frees you to write things you otherwise might not. Furthermore, "the Internet has no means to allow realtime feedback (other than rarely used two way audio/video streams," the psychologist Daniel Goleman notes. This "puts our inhibitory circuitry at a loss - there is no signal to monitor from the other person. This results in disinhibition - impulse unleashed." A bank robber doesn't just wear a mask because it protects his identity; it also helps him to tap into his ugly.
In some instances - or one, at least - all this tumult has led to something witty. In 1990, attorney and author Mike Godwin gave birth to Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies when he observed, "As an online discussion grows longer, the probablity of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100%"
But in most instances, the tumult has simply led to a lot of random bitchy comments. Consider the case of skateboarder Jake Brown. At the X Games in 2007, Brown fell about fifty feet to the ground when trying to land a two-spin rotation on a 293-foot half-pipe (called, appropriately enough, the Mega Ramp). When a video of this spectacular wipeout went up on YouTube, one person wrote in the comments section, "HIS SHOES POPPED OFF, LOL," while another posted, simply, "Ha ha ha ha ha ha." In June 2010, a Tennessee couple hiked to the top of a mountain where the young man was going to produce a ring and then propose to a girl; but before he did so, lightning struck and killed her. When the incident was posted on Facebook, 257 people hit the "Like" button.
Clearly, such people suffer from a kind of heartlessness; but what can those of us who don't suffer in this way learn from them? What does all this talk of blindness and disinhibition mean in practical terms for those of us who spend a large portion of our days staring at a screen? Primarily, I would venture, the lesson is that we should probably pay more heed when we hear that voice in our head that says, Should I send this?
There should be a word - a long, German one, no doubt - for e-mail's version of post-natal depression. Or maybe it's the aha moment's ugly cousin, the uh-oh moment. Whenever I send something that yields subsequent second-guessing, I am haunted by a statement made in a 2003 New Yorker article about people who survive jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the jumpers interviewed - Ken Baldwin, who, severely depressed, had tried to commit suicide at age 28 - told writer Tad Friend that, upon hurling himself into the air, "I instantly realized that everything in my life that I thought was unfixable was totally fixable - except for having just jumped."
Certain kinds of messages are potential jumpers. They're better conveyed by forms of communication other than e-mail. Specifically, messages that are emotional; that announce your bold departure or change of orientation on a previously discussed matter; or that require a lot of feedback or negotiation. In all three instances, a discussion, either in person or by phone, is likely to prove a more successful communication because it allows for give-and-take.
You never want to bring a lion-size problem into a house full of LOL cats. (90-4)