A Guardian piece by Agnès Poirier laments the fading of the polite pronoun:
Today, French people in their 20s hardly ever use vous or tend to think of it like the past perfect subjunctive, an archaic remnant. They have never known the world before the internet and social networks are their thing. They use textspeak, and communicate with emoticons. We had slang, verlan, and wrote love letters. They have got tweets, RTs and “likes”. They set up dates by text, and use Twitter to dump people. In a world where one communicates within the 140 characterlimit, vous is a hindrance and tu a godsend.
Things get complicated when different generations collide on the social networks. Last year, as the Le Monde blogpost points out, Franz Durupt, a young hack from the French daily dared to say “tu” to Laurent Joffrin, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur magazine on Twitter. Scandal. The older journalist complained and the Twittersphere accused him of being pedantic. He retorted that all he asked for was a little respect, and that the vous culture was exactly what social media needed most. …
I personally didn’t have a strong opinion on the matter until Nicolas Sarkozy came to power in 2007. The former French president said tu to everyone. This shocked and infuriated me as it did millions of French people. How dare he say tu to people he didn’t know? How disrespectful, how hypocritical, how disingenuous. I suddenly realised the importance of having two forms of address. Vous is not only a sign of respect and politeness towards an older person or a stranger; it puts a healthy and adult distance between two individuals, it gives them some space to actually get to know one another better, to win the other over and get to the stage where they’ll happily say “tu”. Tu is a sign of real intimacy, one that should be genuine, not contrived. Tu is a gift to real friendship – just not the kind you necessarily have with your 1500 Facebook “friends”.
On the one hand, as a fellow geezer I’m sympathetic. On the other, I’m pretty sure her teenage self (“We were the salut generation, the ones with bad manners”) would have laughed her lament-writing self to scorn. Instead of realizing “the importance of having two forms of address,” she should have realized “Oh, hell, I’m getting old.” It never ceases to amaze me how automatically people replicate the lament modes of their parents and grandparents, and how hard it is for them to see that process for what it is. Mom and dad were just being foolish, but my complaints are serious! (Thanks for the link, Kobi.)