Thursday, June 24, 2010

"I See Rude People" by Amy Alkon

I love this book! The subtitle is "One woman's battle to beat some manners into impolite society." Yeah, I've felt that way quite a lot as I get older; I find myself wanting to go up to people and say "Didn't your mother teach you any better?" Seems like rude people are everywhere you turn around, making one wonder why we ever walk out our front doors in the first place.

No one is safe from Alkon: lax parents, internet bullies, rude drivers, negligent businesses, telemarketers, car thieves, and cell phone "yakkers" all bear the brunt of her displeasure, and her attention. What's more interesting to me is that she takes on what really is a serious subject, injects it with enough humor to keep you reading, and gives you some history/anthropology lessons to boot.

See, we've always been rude, us humans. We're just noticing it more in today's modern world. Way back when, say during the Stone Age (OK, you could even go as far forward as Hunter-Gatherer societies), we wanted to act out - but we caved (pardon the pun) to peer pressure. Basically, if you were the snottiest one of the small group, you could and would be left behind by your fellow cavemen if you misbehaved; you needed them to survive. Alkon points out that there are still "nice" societies in our complex world today, but they tend to have no more than 150 people in them. Anything above that and you start to lose the peer pressure, thus resulting in boorish behavior.

Perhaps the most novel advent in the war on manners is the Internet. While there are several cases of cyber-bullying in the news these days, there are also people like Alkon who have taken to "blogslapping" - outing people via the blogs regarding bad behavior. Think of all the viral videos you see about cops beating suspects, teachers freaking out on kids, etc, and you know what I'm talking about. Alkon theorizes that this is the new way in which we will exert peer pressure, a way that will hopefully make people more aware of their actions - or at least more aware that there are people out there watching them.

The stories are too funny, from Alkon tracking down the home address and phone number of telemarketing execs (and yes, she calls them during dinner!) to her quest to track down the man who stole her beloved Pink Rambler - and her subsequent harassment of said thief. She's not shy about what she wants, and she's a journalist who knows how to get it. My advice? Mind your P's and Q's because there's a very good chance that someone out there is watching you.

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