Way back in the mid 1990s, when cell phones started to become more commonplace, I foresaw the end of civility and common courtesy as we knew it, or at least knew what was left of it. People had already lost most of the concept that there were other people in the world, fist evidenced by the boom box, and then the near total entrenchment into self that came with the walkman. People stopped communicating, preferring to immerse in a personal world of sound. And now that I think about it some more, I would have to say that television, and perhaps before that, radio, set the stage for a willingness to be talked at, taking an easier, cybernetic road. The end result is that we have largely become numb to the need to acknowledge the presence, or merely the proximity, of others. And there is no greater evidence for this than the cell phone.
Today I was sitting in the waiting room of my doctor’s office (routine visit). There was only one other person waiting, a woman whom I acknowledged when I first entered the room. She was fiddling with her cell phone, and no sooner had I sat down, she put it on speakerphone and started dialing. I could hear it ringing, and not wanting to appear that I would be listening to the conversation, picked up a magazine and started to thumb through it. It was a copy of Oprah’s mag, “O,” and this issue was dedicated to relief of stressors in one’s life. I searched the table of contents for an article on rude people, to no avail.
Even though the phone was on speaker, the woman still put it up to her ear. “Pam? I’m sitting here in the doctor’s office looking at ‘House and Garden.’” Indistinct response. “HAHAHAHAHAHA, I know. Anyway, those flowers in the front yard? They’re azaleas. I just thought I’d let you know.” Indistinct response. “OK, bye.” She hung up, continued to turn magazine pages, occasionally paused, and muttered, “Hmmmm” or “Ah,” as if now that Pam was not on the phone, I might be inclined to engage. I put down Oprah, sat back and closed my eyes.
I’m not a big fan of phones, let alone cell phones in public. I know they serve a function, and are indeed very useful. I cannot remember a time when I did not have a phone, and indeed, I now have a cell phone that I have with me at all times. DW’s orders. Yet, I am not one to pick up the phone just because I feel like chatting. No, a phone is a tool, to be used when it is needed. Get on, say what NEEDS to be said, and then get off. Not surprisingly, I don’t receive a lot of calls, either. It’s kind of like writing letters. You have to write one to receive one.
Now, I know this is a dead horse, but I’ve been standing in line a long time waiting for my chance with the club. I’ve been patient, only to watch as things deteriorate around me. No, that’s not true. I haven’t been patient. Before I settled in with DW, I had an opportunity to revisit an old college flame. It had been years since we had seen each other, and I was curious if some of the old spark remained. We made plans to meet for dinner. In many ways, it was like we had just seen each other days before. The conversation was easy, lubricated somewhat by cocktails, and we caught up on each others’ lives, hers as a successful business owner, and me… well, the Boheme. You know. At one point during dinner I had to use the little boys’ room. When I returned to the table, she was on her cell. I sat there for another five minutes while she directed an underling. I said nothing at the time, yet I avoided numerous calls thereafter.
I could cite other examples, like when out with the boys and one decides to call his new flame with the rest of us sitting there. That time I actually said something: “Shall we pull up another chair so she can sit down?” He apparently didn’t get it, because he said, “No, she’s not coming.”
Finally, I’ll leave you with this: I remember first be accosted by someone’s cell phone conversation on the subway in Chicago. The trains are very loud, so, quite naturally, if one wants to be heard on the phone, one has to shout, both parties in the conversation reaching decibel levels above that of the train. While a third party cannot hear what is being said on the other end, one certainly is privy to all that is said by the person sitting across the aisle. I fantasized about joining in the conversation. I wonder how that would be received.
“Hey Sam, it’s me, Joe.”
Me: “NICE TO MEET YOU JOE, BUT MY NAME IS BASTIN.”
“Hold on a second, Sam. Some douche bag (said in a manner that only someone from Chicago can appreciate) is looking to get his clock cleaned.”