Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gizmos and the City

An article from City-Journal on people and their cell phones. I enjoy the convenience, but there are times when I wish people would put those contraptions away!
I’m all for the electronic revolution, a real marvel of advanced capitalism. But one has to admit that all the gizmos have degraded common politeness.

For starters, it’s gotten harder and harder on the streets to tell who’s crazy and who’s not. I first noticed this change a couple of years ago when I saw a suit-and-tie coming toward me talking loudly to nobody. I first thought he was nuts, but that’s because I couldn’t see the tiny microphone on the wire from the cell phone in his pocket to his ear. Today, all kinds of people on the streets of Washington, D.C., where I now live, walk around empty-handed, talking to people who physically aren’t there. No topic seems too personal to share with everybody within 50 yards: lovers’ break-up, a divorce settlement, financial ruin, a misbehaving child. No profanity is beyond the pale: after all, it’s a private conversation.

More bizarre, if less obnoxious, are people wired to their MP3s. Recently on the Metro a skinny guy about 50, with a balding pate encased in a white stocking and wearing wrap-around shades, was bobbing on his seat and making weird gesticulations with his hands: so in thrall was he to the tune blasting his eardrums to shreds. Harmless enough, I thought; but, still, one couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t about to go off his rocker.

Positively disturbing was the sight of a young couple, holding hands as if on a date, talking on separate cell phones, each to someone else (or maybe it was a conference call). Cell phone multi-tasking has now become multi-relating. I wondered if these two turn off their cells when they turn off the lights. In restaurants, it’s awful to see a diner stare at the ceiling while the person across the table blabs to or “texts” someone miles away.

Politeness seems a lost art in the age of gizmos. At a recent wedding I attended, as the bride walked down the aisle, a cell phone rang out the William Tell overture. For some reason, when using cell phones, people can’t talk within a civil decibel range. Writhing to the music on the subway isn’t the height of decorum, either. And if watching out for others on the road is politeness as well as self-preservation, then drivers talking on their cells are the rudest people on the planet.
People can you show the world that you can live with your cell phones? PLEASE!

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