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Lead by example.

Sometimes I get the feeling that I was born in the wrong century.  Although I have excellent computer skills (according to my resume) and appreciate the convenience of gadgets, I resent the fact that they dominate the way we live.  The convenience of email and text messages has removed thoughtful letters and intimate conversation from our lives.  What had the potential to bring us together is ultimately what’s driving us apart.

My number one bone of contention is the ever-present cell phone.  Yesterday I was following a driver who suddenly, inexplicably, slammed on the brakes.  There was no car in front of them and they did not have their turn signal on.  I was disgusted, but not surprised, when they make a left hand turn and I saw the driver with her cell phone plastered to her left ear.  When did yapping on the phone become more important than properly operating a vehicle?

Let’s not forget all the people who chat while at the grocery store.  That’s fine, to a point, but if someone on a cell phone, for example, hits me with their cart, I would hope they would at least have the courtesy to pause their conversation to apologize to me as I go limping away with a fresh bruise on my shin.  Sadly, though, the apologies don't happen because they are too self-absorbed to even notice in the first place.

But none of that bothers me even a fraction as much as people who are so addicted to their cell phone that they prioritize it over the person in front of them.  It happens all the time:   I’ll be engaged in a face-to-face conversation with someone, when in the middle of my sentence their phone rings, buzzes, beeps, plays a cheesy song, or any combination of the above.  I’ll keep talking until I get the finger.  Just the index finger, of course, accompanied by a sudden view of the top of their head.  And then the finger again, with a sideways look and a nod.  I’ll interpret that look to mean, “I have to take this.  You understand.”

And I will understand… if that person is a firefighter, a doctor on call, a parent of small children, or the spouse of a stranded partner.  Maybe this will be the phone call that makes or breaks that person’s career.  Perhaps it’s NASA calling for assistance with Discovery’s take-off.  It might be Obama calling for advice on Libya.  Maybe it’s the doctor calling to say that the test results are in, and yes, that person carries a rare genetic ability to time travel.  By all means, take that phone call.  I’m a reasonable person.

Usually, though, the half of the conversation that I will be privy to goes as follows:  “Hello?  Oh hey.  Nothin’ much.  It was okay, how about you?  Nice.  No way!  I love that show.  Yeah, I heard, I can’t believe she said that.  [Laughter.]  Right.  Yep.  Nope.  [Leans back in chair, facing away from me.]  Remember that time at the bar?  I know.  What an idiot!  You should look on Facebook, I think Todd posted some pictures.  I know, right?  Okay.  I can’t wait.  Talk to you later.”

The person will turn back to me, smiling from ear to ear.  “Sorry, what were you saying?”  By that time I’ll have lost my train of thought and entirely forgotten what I was even talking about.  But I’ll assume it wasn’t nearly as important as the conversation for which they interrupted me (especially since they can’t remember what I was talking about, either).

There have been times when people have actually walked away from me mid-conversation to go check an incoming text message as soon as it arrived.  I’ve also seen many people who can’t eat a meal without the phone next to them on the table (and they’ve answered every text message right away, greasy fingers be damned).  Or, worst of all, people who make phone calls or send text messages while sitting in a restaurant with me.  Am I really that boring?  It leaves me wondering why, when I send a text message to these people, it will go for hours unanswered.

This constantly-connected culture came so quickly that there was never really a chance for society to build proper etiquette around it.  I have always been a stickler for good manners, so I have never allowed my phone to take center stage in my life.  I silence it and stash it in my purse when I am out to dinner.  I never text and drive (at the risk of sounding preachy, NOBODY should do that).  I wouldn’t even consider interrupting someone to answer my phone, especially since I am neither a wife nor a mother nor a caregiver to sick or elderly people.  Nothing is as important as the person who is right in front of me, giving me the gift of their time, telling me something that they feel I would want to hear, and trusting that I am listening.

Although there are a lot of people who disagree with me, there are also just as many who feel the same way I do and practice the very same good manners.  It gives me hope that this rant of mine is not a lost cause, even though this is not a new or groundbreaking topic.  I know I likely won’t be starting a mobile-device-etiquette revolution with my blog, but I also know that the most important change I can make is to practice what I preach.  Hopefully, by not allowing my cell phone to de-emphasize the time and attention from someone I care about, I will make someone’s day a little brighter.  Maybe I’ll even make their life a little better.  It’s true that it’s contagious… so let the revolution begin!

Comments

  1. I think every generation feels like it grew up "in the time when things were best" or however you want to phrase it, and that the new generations don't grow up with the same values. That will likely be the case for a long time.

    I think we've hit a technology wall, actually. It would be virtually impossible for us to get any more connected than we are right now, barring liberal amounts of surgery. Facebook and full-keyboard text messaging phones were the last steps.

    I don't know if people today are any more self-important or rude than they were before, or if technological advances just make it seem that way. Don't worry, before too long we will have cybernetic implants that silently communicate with our minds, and we won't be forced to hear what strangers are having for dinner on a given night!

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  2. I agree, Pete. Values change with the generations. Perhaps this is the first step to becoming an "old person". I can't imagine anything being more connected than the ipad, but then again, I was amazed at the palm pilot back in 1998, and I couldn't fathom anything beyond.

    I'm looking forward to those cybernetic implants... the world around me will feel so much more peaceful! I just hope they use general anaesthesia for the surgery.

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