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Goodbye to goodbye

The Beatles had it half right: You don't say goodbye, you just hang up. But in our hurried Hub, in this multitasking age, what could you expect?

Hello, there!

This is another annoying telephone survey coming your way. Too busy? Too bad! We'll bug you anyway.

Say you're on the phone, the chat winding down to its final moments, when the voice on the other end drifts into the ether . . . followed by click. Mouth agape, you are left to wonder: Was your friend kidnapped, handkerchief over mouth, before being able to sign off?

No, it was merely one of the remaining vestiges of mainstream gentility that's been snatched: the gallant telephonic goodbye.

Communication specialists say the traditional parting is being hijacked by members of a 21st-century society who are too busy -- multitasking, or fixating on themselves or the world's plight, or fighting tame convention -- to utter a basic coda to phone conversation s .

This trend, which hoists yet another red flag in our ever-increasing jaunt toward rudeness, is growing particularly evident in a high-powered metropolis such as Boston, recently rated by the auto club AutoVantage as the fifth-worst venue in the country for road rage.

And there is increasing evidence that it's not just cars we operate rudely here in the Hub b ub of the universe.

Elena Viveiros can attest to the lost goodbye as she helps handle the torrent of phone inquiries at the 311 information call center in Somerville City Hall.

Viveiros figures a third of the 150 calls she takes every week there meander off without a proper ending.

``I think in a big city, people tend to be in that fast pace," says Viveiros, 42. ``Their tone indicates they're done. It's an implied parting of the ways."

However, she says she notices a difference in demeanor when the calls come from out of state, say from Somervillians who've taken up residence in Florida.

``The pace is slower, more relaxed," says Viveiros. ``They do tend to say goodbye."

From her vantage point overseeing the MBTA's Traveler's Information Center downtown, Crystal Reid has also heard a good riddance to goodbye. She estimates that half the 30 to 50 incoming phone calls she listens in on during her daily quality-control checks are bereft of goodbyes.

Though she was brought up to mind her manners, Reid says she understands how the need to say goodbye can get buried under the heavy issues of the day.

``People are carrying a lot of burdens," says Reid, 39. ``It's not intentional. It's truly not meant to be rude. That is not the priority at the moment."

How did we end up in the age -- no, the moment -- of the wrong goodbye? ``It's an evolutionary process," says Peter Post, who heads the institute in Burlington, Vt., that bears the name of his great - grandmother, the grand-dame of decorum, Emily Post.

Post , 56, has himself experienced dead air at the end of a phone conversation, and he finds it discourteous.

``It is egregious etiquette," he says. ``We have a fast-paced world we're living in, an informal world we're living in. . . . We're onto the next thing. Our mind is ahead of our mouth."

Back in the day -- the 16th century -- people bid each other adieu with the parting words, ``God be with ye." That was eventually shortened into ``goodbye." With a current crop of young Americans prone to ignoring society's niceties, it's not hard to see how the phone farewell got dropped altogether.

``There's been a general shift in culture to emphasize the self," says Jean Twenge , 34, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University. ``Young people don't care as much about what other people think."

In her new book, ``Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before," Twenge cites numbers indicating a new willingness to ignore old-school norms. On a scale that measures the need for social approval -- such as engaging in please-and-thank-you behavior -- she found that the average college student in 2001 scored lower than 62 percent of collegians assessed in 1958. And, she discovered, the resistance to rules now permeates children ages 9 to 12 as well.

Having been raised on pat-yourself-on-the-back aphorisms from TV characters like Barney the purple dinosaur, many of today's youths don't see the need for thoughtfulness beyond personal gratification, Twenge says.

``Media messages like `You have to love yourself before you can love somebody else' and `You shouldn't care what other people think of you' -- they're horrible pieces of advice to give someone," says Twenge. ``If people really didn't care what other people thought of them, the world would be unliv able."

In that vein, specialists say, young people and their grownup copycats are saying ``ciao, baby" to our trusty ``goodbye."

Rude, more rude, most rude
In a world gone mad with mayhem, parents already have their hands full with teachable moments. Yet when violence hits the streets of the city, the worlds of murder and missed manners can intersect. At a time when a homicide can be triggered by a perceived slight -- a gesture or remark or look all lumped under the heading of ``disrespect" -- the powers-that-be can be heard lamenting our loss of civility.

Which should come as no surprise: Survey after recent survey documents a rise in rudeness. There's last year's Associated Press/Ipsos poll that found more than two-thirds of us think people are more rude than they were 20 or 30 years ago. Only 4 percent of respondents thought people were less rude now, while 26 percent said rudeness was about the same.

In a 2002 survey by the nonprofit public opinion group Public Agenda, entitled ``Aggravating Circumstances: A Status Report on Rudeness in America," 79 percent of Americans viewed our lack of respect and courtesy as a serious national problem. Yet, 41 percent confessed to having acted disrespectfully themselves.

``Rudeness begets rudeness," says Ruth Wooden , 59, president of the New York-based Public Agenda, explaining how the goodbye-to-goodbye current can drag down the general public.

Wooden says she's been subjected to the phone call minus goodbye on a small scale, and believes it is impolite and impolitic.

She says, ``What it conveys is `My time is more important than your time.' "

From e-mailing to text messaging, technological advances that allow us to communicate instantly across the world can also push us farther apart. Do we use the time freed up by cybercommunications to better express our feelings -- or cram in more tasks to fulfill?

The flor id longhand of yesteryear has been replaced by the funky shorthand of today. E-mails are dashed off sans salutations and sign-offs, the built-in ``to" and ``from" lines replacing even truncated ``hi" and ``bye."

Young people who e-mail and Instant Message have created their own communication code, both to insulate themselves and allow for limited space. There's LOL, for instance -- laughing out loud -- to POS -- parent over shoulder. Like the artist intermittently known as Prince, words have given way to symbols; human emotions range from :) for happy to {gt}{gt}:-&lt&lt for furious. Even someone inclined to sign an electronic message might go by first initial only. When a teen is juggling 20 IM screens while doing homework, it's not practical to say goodbye to all online buddies.

The e-mail habit -- including the tendency to view even discontinuous contact as ongoing conversation and thus launch into chatter without formal beginning or end -- permeates our lives.

In a 2004 survey conducted by the ePolicy Institute and the American Management Association, 86 percent of respondents admitted they used e-mail at work for nonbusiness purposes. Their abbreviated form of correspondence, communication specialists say, has thus easily spilled into phone-speak, dispatching the sing-song bye-bye, once an art form, into oblivion.

``I could certainly see, particularly with younger employees so accustomed to communicating via text messaging or Instant Messaging, they may now be taking shortcuts when they're on the telephone," says Nancy Flynn , executive director of the ePolicy Institute and author of ``E-Mail Rules."

Was it something I said?
Though it smacks of a relaxed atmosphere, some say the slacker informality that is banishing our goodbye s can actually add stress.

Asked in the 2002 survey how much they were bothered by rude behavior, 62 percent of the respondents answered ``a lot." Just 9 percent said ``only a little."

Says Wooden: ``These are daily assaults on people's sensibilities. These are not trivial."

Post says society's strictures can play a comforting role.

``It sets a very nice standard," says Post, who writes a weekly column on business etiquette for the Globe. ``You don't have to worry: `This is how you do it.' "

When our core code of conduct is eroded, unease may creep in. When ``goodbye" goes missing from our phone gabs, we may wonder: Was it something I said?

Jonathan Bowman , an assistant professor of communication at Boston College, has felt that sense of ambiguity following a phone call that closes devoid of a goodbye.

``It does make me want to evaluate the situation to make sure . . . I didn't cause the curt behavior," says Bowman, 27.

He says communicating via the phone rather than in person makes it easier to face the consequences of pushing aside protocol.

``The use of the telephone allows you to distance yourself from interaction. You're going to feel more comfortable engaging in slightly more negative behavior."

Still, though he's busy himself, Bowman says he's reluctant to exile the time-tested telephone goodbye from his life.

``It may improve my quality of output, but not my quality of life," he says. ``I tend to be much more of a quality-of-life person."

So, though less is often more, that concept may not work so smoothly in a realm where silence has emerged as the new:


Ric Kahn can be reached at

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