A Blog by Jonathan Low

 

Jan 21, 2019

How Tech May Be Helping To Normalize Toxic Behaviors

Tech, and smart phones in particular, may be speeding the time in which behaviors formerly considered rude or antisocial are now regarded as normal. JL

Marc Bain reports in Quartz:

What people consider normal behavior appears to be a mix of what’s common and what they see as ideal. The finding suggested a significant consequence:“People might be able to separate out the average from the ideal, but they often use reasoning that blends the two into a single undifferentiated judgment of normality.” Technology owns some of the responsibility for these behaviors, which boil down to how we now communicate.
In 2017, researchers at Yale University published a paper in the journal Cognition demonstrating that what people consider normal behavior appears to be a mix of what’s common and what they see as ideal. The finding suggested a significant consequence:
“People might sometimes be able to separate out the average from the ideal, but they more often make use of a kind of reasoning that blends the two together into a single undifferentiated judgment of normality,” the researchers wrote in the New York Times. They added: “Our work thus offers support for those who worry about ‘normalization’: that things, simply by becoming more common, become more acceptable.
The way society has normalized certain “toxic” behaviors was the subject of a popular thread on Reddit over the weekend. After thousands of comments, two behaviors stood out with more upvotes and replies than others:
  • Employers expecting workers to be available and ready to respond to requests well beyond the end of the workday
  • Ghosting, in which somebody ends a relationship by simply ceasing communication, without warning or explanation
These behaviors are probably more often aggravating than life-threatening. Still, the responses show they’re having real effects on well-being nonetheless and suggest problems with the way companies often treat employees.
In one extreme case of the always-on mentality, one commenter described being on leave while preparing for a major surgery and still receiving a text from a manager asking if they could do their performance review over the phone. Other examples tended to include expecting employees to respond to any request at a moment’s notice, without additional pay. Some workers say they feel if they weren’t always available, they might be seen as bad employees and that their job could be at risk. The idea of being able to maintain a genuine balance between work and a separate personal life then becomes difficult, if not impossible.
As for ghosting, the complaints that got the most upvotes and replies weren’t about dating, which gave rise to the term, but about companies not following up about job applications. Many companies simply don’t reply to all applicants, of course, but job seekers offered examples of going on interviews and companies never replying to say they hadn’t gotten the job. Applicants can be left with uncertainty about jobs they may need for weeks or months.
At this point, these behaviors have been normalized in the sense the Yale researchers described. They’re so common now that they’ve also become seen as generally acceptable, if not exactly polite.
Ghosting, for instance, is even happening to employers. Applicants disappear after interviews—or quit jobs by simply not showing up anymore—with enough frequency to catch the attention of the US Federal Reserve Bank, which monitors employment trends. (Americans, tired of being ghosted by hiring departments for years, have been enjoying the reversal.)
Technology, as posters pointed out on Reddit, owns some of the responsibility for these behaviors, which boil down to how we now communicate. Countless employees carry phones with apps such as Slack, which means  managers can reach them at any time. With text and email—unlike face-to-face meetings or talking on the phone—conversations can end, and uncomfortable confrontations can be avoided, by simply not responding.
How “toxic” a person deems these behaviors may come down to their personal experience with them. What’s clear is they’re not likely to disappear. They’re just normal now.

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