Dear Weekly Wright-up Readers:
At risk of sounding like a crumudgeon-in-training (which perhaps I am), I was reminded this week that the age of the personal letter, exemplified by the now quaintly cordial correspondence between Frank Lloyd Wright and Darwin D. Martin, is well behind us - and with it, maybe the age of civility as well.
The bizarre slap-fest between Congressional candidate Jack Davis and a cameraman (who turned out to be Republican rival Jane Corwin's staffer) is just the latest instance of adults behaving like overgrown playground bullies. Such exchanges happen thousands of times a day on a smaller scale, thanks, in part, to the ready convenience of countless online forums. There, civility is maintained only by the integrity of individual contributors, and more often than not, our worst nature, prejudice, and good ol' fashioned ignorance is laid bare. Take, for example, the common mode of online chat and posting that gives the impression of innumerable keyboards with the caps-lock stuck - THE TEXT EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING!!! Not to mention the utter lack of respect to others demonstrated by many who hide behind a username to exercise their First Amendment rights.
What does this have to do with the Wright-Martin letters of a century ago? Nothing directly. But it occurred to me that we could use a dose of the hard-wired etiquette practiced by Mr. Martin (if not always consistently by Mr. Wright). No matter how the Martin House budget was rising or how long he had been waiting for a requested detail, Mr. Martin always addressed his architect as "Dear Sir," or "Dear Mr. Wright."
Not to be a Philistine in this nostalgia for the slower, more genteel pace of personal letter exchange (you're reading this online, after all) - there's nothing inherent about cyberspace that promotes a breakdown in civility. So what is it? It could just be that people today are not less polite, but their lack of respect for others is just more widely publicized...