I listen to people. In a conversation, a lecture, a debate, but more often than not these days, in hallways, airports, on sidewalks, trains, elevators, meetings, stores, restaurants...the list is endless because so are the cell phone conversations that I am forced to overhear. I used to think that after the initial surge of cell phone usage, the overly loud tones, like those of an anthropologist trying to communicate with the Nacirema tribe and only succeeding in making an ass of himself, would abate and some sense of propriety or concern for privacy would happen. It is to laugh at my naivete, darling. Instead, the voices have increased in volume and in numbers, and the owners of those strident tones not only have no concern for their own privacy, but even less for...gasp...mine. Yep, they couldn't care less that I know their wife cheated on them, that they plan on taking down the PR division at the next board meeting, that their kid got expelled for cheating, that they have a DUI, or any other facet of their troubles that shouldn't be public fodder. Most often it's just the droning drivel of their incredibly boring lives, i.e., did you see Mad Men, did you know Fiona's pissed at Robbie, are we having mac and cheese for dinner, ad infinitum ad nauseum. Not a one of any of these problems or discussions need to happen at this particular moment in time, but it does and that peculiar trait of immediacy wrapped in self-importance is the real stickler. Go home and talk to people face to face, please. Because, for all they know, I could be a member of the Thought Police and they are two steps away from death.
Speaking of steps, that's the other thing. Not only are these people driving while they text, they're walking, and not doing it well. Admittedly, erect coordination is an acquired skill - we're much better at it than our primate cousins, but not when texting on a phone. Last week I watched two teenage girls texting each other, cracking up, as they walked side by side down the street. Apparently they forgot how to speak to each other, or maybe they were never very good at it anyway. I think most of us have been nudged, stepped on, shoved, or run into by a texter by now if we're out of the house much. I'm going to yell "Boo!" the next time and the only thing that's stopped me before is the unpleasantness of getting screamed at or sued for causing someone to drop the phone. However, I'm past it, so fair warning.
What's worrisome is that we have a generation of people now who've been using cell phones since the early teen years, and a first crop of children coming behind them who've never known life without them. If so many adults are addicted to their constant inconsequential chat/text, how can we expect their offspring to be any different? I was at a friend's house for dinner and watched in disbelief as their two children brought their phones to the dining table and chatted and texted throughout the meal, while Mom and Dad, people I've respected for years, took on an entirely new aspect for me. How can they not see how rude this is? Or is it just poor parenting, not something I'd ever seen from these two before.
Have I ever used my phone in public? Of course I have, the convenience of being in touch wherever you are is wonderful. When I do, though, I keep my voice down, conversation short, in the realm of "I'll call you back when I'm free" and if I have to take the call, excuse myself to another room. To do else is rude not only to my companions, but the rest of the people within earshot. How do you get this message across to people, not just strangers in public, but to your friends at the same table without coming across as a persnickety uptight out of sync with the times grouch?
It's simple. Maybe you don't. Maybe you have to risk offending people, sometimes people you like a lot. Civility and manners aren't completely gone, maybe people just need a gentle reminder of how they should behave. It's not out of sync, or out of style to be polite and not always put themselves or their needs first. So, the next time someone's having a chat about their prostate or putting their kids in therapy within three feet of me, I'm going to suggest they have it somewhere more private, or not at all....or when I'm having dinner at a restaurant and two people at my table are texting each other or typing on their iPads, I'm going to ask for a recess from electronic communication. If I wanted to talk on my phone, I wouldn't have bothered to get dressed and drive to see real people, would I? The answer ain't blowing in the frequency, my friends, the answer is NO. We need to start saying it more often.