To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few.
--Emily Dickinson

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When machines make us rude

On the woman's head was a headset that only airline pilots should be sporting. While she unloaded her groceries at the produce market she held a conversation about dog food with the listener on the other end of the line. She ignored the nice young man ringing up her purchases, interrupted her other conversation long enough to tell him that she'd bag the groceries herself because they were going to two different households, and then picked up the other conversation again while she distractedly picked through her purchases. While she's talking about Alpo, myself, the grocery clerk and the two ladies in line behind me are patiently waiting for Miss Rude to be on her merry way.  After she left, I mentioned that technology seemed to be making people lose their social skills. The nice, young man shrugged and told me that it happens a lot. He also told me that it drives him crazy. Me too.
I don't wish to deny anyone their smart phone, their digital music or their iPad. They all make life, and keeping up with the dizzying speed at which it moves, much easier.  I use these things as well. But to me, these tiny technological devices are just machines. They are tools by which I live my life, not a lifestyle that defines me. When it comes down to a choice between interacting with the person in front of me and using my smart phone, I try and pick the human being.
I don't begrudge the woman in the produce market her smart phone. I resent her rudeness while using it. Because what she was really communicating to that young man was that he was not worthy of her full attention, that his presence mattered so little that he might as well not be there at all. Convenience, in the form of a machine, is not an excuse for discourtesy. There are reasons that things like manners and courtesy are part of the hallmarks of a civilized society. Without them, we'd have self-involved, self-indulgent chaos.
Technology can be a wonderful thing. But when it starts to dislodge basic civility, that's when I turn my smart phone off.