The other day I was sitting at the bar in an Olive Garden. It was lunchtime and I didn’t want to wait “fifteen to twenty minutes” for a table. I took a seat at the bar and ordered soup despite the fact that it was over ninety degrees outside. As I waited, I looked to my right and just three seats down from me there was a stunningly beautiful woman sitting next to a guy.
After I got over the fact that she was so stunning, I smiled to myself as I watched her physically turn her body away from her ‘companion’ and play with her phone for a good five minutes until the food arrived. Occasionally, the guy would try to say something to her and would end up speaking into her right shoulder. (Hey, maybe there was a microphone in there I couldn’t see from my vantage point.)
I thought, “What a sad way to have lunch.” Here I am, eating by myself, which I do a lot of, but this guy had it worse than me. He didn’t rate above her beloved cell phone. I’m hopeful that I would have the wherewithal and spine to simply get up and leave. She was being what I call digitally rude and it’s spreading rapidly.
We live in a society that is completely and utterly addicted to electronic devices and digital forms of so-called communication. So-called ‘smartphones’ now exhibit more base intelligence than the humans carrying them. That’s why you see signs like this everywhere.
The post office, grocery stores, gift shops, doctor’s offices, your local MVD, banks, and many other businesses now typically display a similar sign because humans won’t put their phones down. It seems as though humans are incapable of going anywhere or doing anything without their phones attached to their heads or under frantically moving fingertips.
Personally, I can’t type on those things. (Notice that in honor of my first grade teacher I refused to use ‘text’ as a verb.) I’m a fairly big dude and my thumbs are, well, let’s just say proportional. If I try to type on a cell phone I get words even I don’t recognize and I speak four languages. I’m constantly hitting backspace or wondering how the phone inserted the word ‘panties’ into a sentence when I was only trying to say I had blueberry pancakes for breakfast. (Who cares, anyway?)
I haven’t been to a movie in ages because I find myself fighting the urge to bring a fly swatter with me and smack anyone who turns on their phone or does anything with it once the coming attractions begin.
A visit to Walmart isn’t bad enough; now you get to walk down the aisles privy to all kinds of phone conversations that would be better kept between the two parties on the phone. People have become inured to words like privacy. In the cereal aisle you’ll hear about Aunt Sarah’s liver operation. In the meat aisle you’ll hear someone arguing about the “ribs you said were on sale but ain’t”. In the dairy aisle you’ll hear an elderly woman explaining in sordid detail why she can’t drink ‘regular milk’ and what happened when she tried the almond milk. (You don’t want to know.) It’s digitally rude.
You’ll hear kids saying ‘like’ every third word, parent’s screaming at their kids, people lying about where they are instead of at work and spouses arguing. I think Walmart should enact the same guidelines as the library; you have to shut up, turn your phone off and just go get your damn stuff.
Email is just as bad as phones. The other day I decided to do a quick survey of my own personal email accounts. I was not surprised to find out that over eighty five percent of my outgoing messages were not responded to in any fashion. This included general business contact, response to ads, inquiries, and just general communication. In addition, many of the messages that were responded to generated an answer an average of FOUR DAYS later.
Being digitally rude did not start just recently. I actually wrote about it ten years ago when I wrote a short series of articles about the explosion of internet dating sites. One of the first things I noticed was that women quickly figured out how to be digitally rude. Did you know that the number one complaint men have about internet dating sites is the failure of the vast majority of women to respond in any fashion to any sort of inquiry, dirty, clean or otherwise? (Apparently most women don’t have ten seconds to type “no thank you” so I wonder where they’re going to squeeze in an entire relationship.)
The internet gave people buttons that would get you a punch in the face in the real world. You have buttons like ‘delete, ignore, block, filter, don’t reply, spam, trash’ and many others that enable humans to simply push a button and be rude. The worst part is, there is no moral responsibility, no accountability since the internet allows people to hide just as do most electronic devices.
If I asked a girl at the grocery store on a date, she would inherently have to say something like, I don’t know, “get lost, bite me, take a hike, no way” or at least yell for security. She’d have to do something! But behind the phone, on the computer, they can simply be digitally rude and walk away. And they do, in great numbers.
I believe so-called modern technology is doing three things which will continue to profoundly affect the human race; 1- It makes many people very sedentary and quite unhealthy. 2- It creates cowards who will do and say things on a computer or phone that they would never have the fortitude to pull off in a face to face. 3- It creates digitally rude people who are rapidly losing the ability to communicate on an intelligent level with anyone, person to person.
When was the last time you had a really good, memorable, meaningful conversation with someone? (For me, it was the last time I talked to myself, which I do a lot when I forget to take my medication.)
Being digitally rude now includes all kinds of things that people can do with their devices. They can ignore voice mails, emails and text messages. They can send out nasty, rude messages while hiding behind the monitor. They can have loud, intrusive and obnoxious conversations in normally quiet, peaceful environments. They can send photos of parts of themselves their mother shouldn’t see. And last but certainly not least, they can cut off, bang into, force off the road or kill someone because whatever they were playing with on their phone was way more important than taking someone’s life.
I’m all for declaring a new national holiday that will probably have only nine participants, including me. I’m thinking a holiday where everyone has to leave their phones off and in a locked drawer and no computer use whatever for twenty four hours.
WHATEVER WILL YOU DO!? Good grief, you might actually have to speak to someone. Heaven forbid; they might have to respond, maybe have an actual CONVERSATION! And maybe, just maybe, we might remember how to be polite to each other again. We might remember what the words etiquette and consideration mean. It’s possible we would find that the personal connection we have when we TALK to each other is so much more meaningful than being digitally rude.
(In closing; I recently abandoned a novel I was writing because I didn’t feel like getting an unwanted visit from some overly zealous and illegally intrusive agency. It was a novel about how easy it is to cause chaos, panic and confusion. It was too easy to write but I smelled trouble. Nevertheless, an amazing chapter came out of that which I converted to a short story that has relevance to this blog. It is relevant because I often wonder what people will do, what chaos and panic will descend on people who currently find themselves bound by blood to their cell phones and the internet. If you’d like to read this story, CLICK HERE.)
Ethan Holmes is the author of Earth’s Blood, The Keystone, Live Your Life In A Crap Free Zone, Shorts and Other Laundry and A Multi-Pack of Brain Flakes.