Sometimes life walks up and hands me a soapbox onto which I can’t help but climb. There are those who tell me that the number of soapboxes you find increases exponentially the older you get. But I really don’t think this particular issue is just me. In fact, I believe this is one of those few cases, where I am not alone in my frustration because deep down many of you out there agree with what I’m about to say. You haven’t said anything because your mama raised you to say nothing if you couldn’t say something good. Well, my mama will just have to get over it, because this ain’t pretty and I’m still going to say it. My apologies, Mom.I recently took my wife, Pam, out on a date night to the movies (I should explain that my wife and I rate movies on a very simple scale: 1) Date Night Movies, 2) Netflix, or 3) Skip it. So since we were at the theater, you can be assured that we were really interested in seeing the movie!) The drama was building, the characters were engaging and at that particular point in the movie, it was nighttime on the screen, which made the whole theater very dark except when lightening flashed occasionally. Suddenly, a bright light flashed down front on the left hand side of the room and I thought lightening just stuck someone in the second row. However, after my eyes adjusted, I realized that it was only a tween who opened her cell phone to text chat with someone. For the next few minutes, the movie played on the screen with this extra bright spot in the room. It was almost impossible NOT to look at the bright spot. It reminded me of an LCD monitor with one tiny pixel mis-firing and always displaying as white. It’s not too bad while the background is white, but let it change to a dark background and you can’t help but notice it.
In 2007, Pam and I went to see John Prine & Iris Dement in Thalia Mara Hall in Jackson, MS. All through the show we were treated to the bright light of the cell phone screen of a girl in the row directly in front of us. She must have been a music critic from Rolling Stone magazine or something because she was constantly texting someone her thoughts and feelings about each song that was sung, while John was still singing it. The screen was so bright in the dark, it was difficult for us to focus on the spotlighted artists on the stage. When she finally decided to crawl all over everyone and left the hall our excitement was short-lived and dissolved into complete disappointment when she returned shortly thereafter. She was walking kinda funny, but her male friends seemed very pleased when she got back because she was able to smuggle in what must have been a case of beer between her legs. She made it back to her seat and started passing out beer and everyone started popping tops and having a great time. It wasn’t long before she just had to text someone and explain how she did it. Then, they all had to make individual bathroom runs because of all the beer they drank.
Either my wife and I are picking the wrong venues to see artists and shows, or this is not an unusual occurrence these days. When we went to see the ‘Mikado’ at the MSU/Riley Center Opera House, the emcee came out on stage and politely asked everyone to turn off their cell phones. As he made his point, I thought about just how often I hear ringing phones or worse ring tones in shows, theaters, church services, and special events. I swear, if I hear Crazy Frog starting up his motor-scooter again when my preacher is praying, I’ll go crazy. And, I’m sure God ain’t far from the breaking point either. Has everyone gone mad? Are we so afraid of missing a call that we are willing to forget that there are other people in the room with us?
Electronic Social Graces are gone, if they ever existed. And, it is not just cell phones that are a problem. Our lives are so involved with electronics that the erosion of our civility to each other is happening everywhere. I love my mp3 player, but I hate seeing drivers with earphones in their ears as they drive down the road. The only time I used to see people with earphones was at a ballgame so they could listen to their favorite sportscaster call the game and back then, people only had one ear piece so they could still hear what was going on around them.
These days, I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone bring a portable dvd player to a restaurant to watch a movie. No, wait, I DID see that! My wife and I went to Red Lobster for dinner with some friends and a couple was seated at the table next to us a little while after we arrived. Without warning, the guy pulled out a portable dvd player and popped in a movie, turned up the volume and they began to watch the movie before they even ordered. It brought a whole new meaning to the concept of “Dinner & A Movie.” It is no longer “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and more like “Guess What They Brought WIth Them.” After watching all the heads turn in the room, we finally asked the waitress to do something. She went and got the manager who at least asked them to turn the volume down.
We all get spam email and while I really appreciate that so many people are truly concerned about my sexual well-being, I’ve gotten used to just ignoring most of it. I got an email the other day signed ‘John.’ There was a single sentence in the message and there was no identifying corporation name in the return email address. I knew the message wasn’t spam, because ‘John’ was writing to ask that I call him back about a specific technical support problem he was having with a program I wrote, but I swear I couldn’t figure out which customer he was because I have a lot of clients named ‘John.’ I didn’t want to just email him back and ask, ‘Who Are You?” because I thought that would have been rude, so I spent about 24 hours trying to figure out who he was, then finding his phone number so I could call him back. It would have taken about 2 minutes for him to set up an auto-signature to show at the bottom of each one of his out-going messages with his full name, company, and telephone number and had he done so, I could have called him back 30 seconds after receiving his email. As it was, he didn’t get prompt service because he didn’t identify himself clearly.
Just the other day, I was in the check-out line in the dollar store when the person in front of me said, “How’s it going?” and since I live in a friendly place and I’m a friendly guy, I said, “Not bad, working too hard, but things are good! How about with you?” At which point the person turned their head around and looked at me with a strange, irratated look and said, “Can you keep it down? I’m on the phone.” Then, I saw the tiny BlueTooth earpiece in her ear and I felt stupid. It’s not fair, if you are going to wear one of those things and talk to someone in the middle of a store, you have to figure that someone is either going to assume you are talking to them, or worse talking to yourself sometimes! But the earpieces keep getting smaller and harder to spot and having friendly chats with strangers is going the way of the Edsel. Maybe these earpieces should have a light that sticks up above their head and it flashes when they are talking on the phone. That way everyone will know they are on the phone and we can laugh at how stupid they look with this light flashing above their head.
A recent news item came out about a guy who was looking at porn in a library and when the librarian finally called the cops, he was sent away and she was fired. At what point, did our Electronic Social Graces devolve to the point where those with good taste and good sense are the ones persecuted instead of those who have none.
There are no Manners Police and there probably won’t be a push to incarcerate those people without Electronic Social Graces however satisfying that would be. But peer pressure can help a lot. After all, we are beginning to win the war against those who insist on sending email messages written in upper case. I’m seeing fewer and fewer of these ‘screaming’ messages as time goes by, so I know it is possible to make a difference.
Next time someone begins texting in a movie theater or concert, politely remind him or her that the light of their phone is just as annoying as the ringing. Ask your friends to put auto-signatures on their emails and point out that you can call them a lot quicker if you don’t have to look up their telephone numbers. It won’t change the world over night, but perhaps we can all enjoy the next movie we see together just a little bit more. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to get used to seeing spots in my eyes and hearing ringing in my ears.