Look At Me When I’m Talking To You: Etiquette in the New World of Device Domination
I write the following at the significant risk of coming off sounding like a grouchy old man who does nothing but complain about how things were better in the “good old days.” Don’t feel bad if that’s what you take away from it, because it’s a fairly accurate description. At 44, I feel fairly comfortable stepping into the role of curmudgeon. I see things I don’t like, I’m apt to complain about them; making it to mid-life earns me that right.
What’s stuck in my craw today? What isn’t would probably be a shorter list, but what’s bugging me is the apparent takeover of our daily lives by our “devices.” It’s becoming more and more common every day to be connected constantly, and I mean CONSTANTLY, to our devices…. our phones, iPads, smart wristwatch, google glass, whatever. I think it’s fair to say that it’s reaching epidemic levels. Case in point:
Our family was at a popular local restaurant the other night, enjoying a nice rare meal together. And by together, I mean nobody was texting or playing video games or listening to music (well, the kids were having trouble taking their eyes off of the big screen TVs, which is a subject for another day…don’t get me started now.) or anything else. We were talking to each other, face to face, eye to eye. Like humans have communicated for thousands of years.
Now compare that to the family who came in and were seated next to us. A young couple, with 3 young kids all under the age of 5. Cute, right? But something was different with this family. Mom had an iPhone. And she was using it. A lot. And she was doing nothing else. And she was paying attention to nothing else. The baby was crying and needed to eat. The other kids were climbing all over the booth, and her. Nope. No time for you, kids. Gotta check my twitter feed. Gotta check in on Facebook so all my friends know where I’m at right now, because that’s pretty f-ing important. Dad’ll take care of you.
And poor Dad? Oh, this guy did not look happy. This couple either couldn’t afford two smartphones (probably because of Mom’s huge data plan bills) or he simply had the sense to know when it was appropriate to use one, and when it was better to actually communicate with humans in physical proximity. Either way, there was no social interaction at this table. Dad sat there, silent, trying to feed a hungry baby and keep two other kids corralled. And he did not look happy about it. If his wife could only have seen the look he was shooting her…ouch. But of course that would require her to actually pry her eyes from her phones’ screen, and that clearly wasn’t about to happen. Poor schmuck.
And this appears to be what we’ve become: a society of automatons walking around unable to do or go anywhere without a device to hook into, at the expense of any and all human-to-human interaction altogether. And that makes me sad. Life is more than facebook updates and grammatically butchered text messages and snapchat photos. I know I’m swimming upstream here, but I don’t want to be in a society like that.
We’ve reached the point where we have access, via our devices, to virtually anything that’s happening anywhere else in the world, instantly, and wherever we go. That puts a hell of a lot of pressure on the people we’re actually sharing space with and with whatever is happening within the sight of our actual human eyeballs. Why talk to the person across from you when you could be texting with somebody 5 states away? Aside from the obvious (to me) inherent rudeness of such an action? With our devices, everyplace other than where we are is always going to seem more interesting than what we’re doing or who we’re with.
At what point does the device and the experiences it offers totally supplant the reality of the live world? I’m afraid for a rapidly growing part of the population, it’s already happened. Especially with younger generations. Watch a teenager. Any teenager. See how long they can go without texting or snapchatting a photo. Not long, was it? Go to a live event like a concert. Count how many people are watching through their phones, recording the event so they can experience it later. You lost count, didn’t you? Forget the actual experience: watch it through a 5 inch phone screen so you can watch it later. (Spoiler Alert: You’ll never watch it. And nobody on Facebook cares one shit to sit through your 2 hour Katy Perry video. Sorry.) This is us now. And it infuriates me. Why bother showing up for an actual experience or actual communication with an actual human being when we can just plug into a device and simulate the whole thing? I fear we’re quickly reaching a point where this simulated life takes us over completely. Again, watch the young.
Maybe I’m just full of shit, and this is all no big deal. Maybe it’s no big deal that the person I’m attempting to talk to face to face interrupts me mid-sentence to answer a text from somebody else. I’m sure whatever they have to tell you is much more important than what I’m saying. It has to be, because it came from the device. Maybe it’s not a problem that one car after another flies by me on the freeway with their drivers’ faces glued to their phones rather than the road ahead of them. They’ll kill somebody else’s family with their negligence, right?
Despite what it may sound like, I’m not anti-technology. Far from it. My work is done exclusively through computers. Any interaction with fellow employees is done electronically. I carry a phone with me. I send texts. I reply to texts. I check weather. I look at sports highlights. I play Angry Birds. I just don’t do it all the time. There is a time and a place for us to engage with our digital devices, just as there’s a time and a place to put them away and pay attention to the people and places around us. Being social doesn’t require a handheld computer. Just as the book is always better than its filmed version, a conversation or experience is ALWAYS much better when done the old-fashioned way. Our eyes see things better than a phone’s camera lens ever will. Our brains record memories infinitely better than a hard drive. We just need to let them once in awhile.
And to that lady in the restaurant who spent the entire time Facebooking with her pals and completely ignoring her adorable young kids (even the crying baby)and interaction-starved husband: You’re missing out. Your kids are young now, and maybe you’re sick of them and just want to relax by checking your twitter. As a parent, I get that. But having an always-available device to escape into is constant “me time” and it’s an easy trap to fall into. But your kids: they’re not sick of you. They want your attention. They need it. And you need to give it to them. Teach them how to interact with their fellow humans. Put down the damn phone for five minutes and attend to your real life. Talk to your husband. He’s got things to say. Listen to him. Those little kids of yours? In the blink of an eye, they’re going to be snot-nosed teenagers glued to their own devices, ignoring YOU. And you’re going to want the time you wasted ignoring them as children back. But it’s gone. Forever. Your precious little babies will live on only in your memory, but only if you pay enough attention to form them in the first place. I hope the Facebooking and Instagramming was worth it. It’s not to me.