It’s possible you’re not an ass, but given our culture, I’m pretty sure you are. I’ll even admit to it myself, now and then. Usually on Fridays.
It’s your phone.
In general, cell phones are a fabulous technology. But they have created a bizarre cultural phenomena in which everything has a level of immediacy, of urgency that didn’t overtake us until they became the ubiquitous accessory that they are today. And they have taken the concept of privacy, of discretion, and flung it out the nearest window.
It’s not even the constant presence of overheard conversation that bothers me most.
Though I’ll admit to wanting to punch the lady in front in front of me at the grocery store last week.
Not only did I get to hear her detailing how unhappy her son was during the administration of an enema (come ON!), when the clerk announced the total of $82 and change, she stuck a wad of 4 twenties in his face without even looking at him. She was so busy ignoring her reality in favor of telling her scintillating story, that she failed to hear him tell her TWICE that she hadn’t given him enough money. In fact, she had her hand outstretched for change.
He actually had to wave at her to get her attention. And she had the audacity to sound pissy when she finally tuned in to the transaction at hand.
She? Is definitely an ass.
And this morning on my way home from dropping my son off from school, I encountered another one. Where the speed limit is 35 and crosswalks are marked with neon signs 100 feet in advance.
I stopped at one of those crosswalks, and the guy behind me very nearly didn’t stop for me. He came right up onto my bumper and I actually cringed, bracing for impact. When I checked my rearview, he had the phone clamped to his ear with one hand and the other was up in the air in the universal What’s your problem? motion.
My problem was the woman and two dogs crossing the street in front of me. Now I drive a giant SUV; I’m a pretty hard target to miss, and he nearly plowed into me. I kind of fear for what might have happened to the woman and her dogs, had I not been in that exact spot at that moment. They were such a smaller visual target.
Either of these things could have been an anomaly. It could be that those two people have never before done something socially retarded because of their cell phone use, and I was witness to their one transgression.
But I doubt it.
And it’s not the witnessing of it that drives me out of my tree, or even the near accident. It’s the precedent.
The lady in the supermarket had her small son sitting in the cart, and she was essentially teaching him that it is okay to be rude and disengaged from the people sharing your physical space.
I’d lay money on her opening countless doors over the course of the year and not even glancing to see if there is anyone behind her that she should hold it open for. Too busy chatting.
The disengagement that comes from this constant need to have the phone up has the capacity to shred our common interactions. There was no Thanks or Have a nice day after the woman took her change from the clerk. She just stuffed it in her purse and left.
That clerk was not even a human being to her.
And the guy that nearly plowed into me? He didn’t have a kid with him, but so, so many drivers do. And those kids are being taught a different type of social disengagement.
There is a law in this state indicating that it illegal to use a cell phone while the vehicle is in motion. Pretty straightforward. Yet it’s done all the time. And for all the kids in all of those cars, they are being taught that it is okay to only abide by the laws they agree with.
Maybe they’ll grow up to disagree with the seat-belt law. Or the drinking and driving laws. Or the personal property laws.
And how important are these conversations, really?
Think back over your last week’s worth of conversations. Especially the ones you had in the car or while you were otherwise occupied.
Were any of them urgent? Would the trajectory of your life been altered, had you missed one? What’s the worst that would have happened?
For a small handful of people, the answers to the above questions is actually yes – a VERY small number. On call ER docs get a pass, as do EMTs and Fire & Rescue personnel.
The wheelers and dealers who answered yes, well you need to suck it. You either need to hire a reliable personal assistant, or just stay at the office later. And if you think coming home and spending the trip and half the night strapped to the phone counts as family time, you are deluding yourself and your family is probably the first group of people that realized that you’re an ass.
In my case a missed call is more typical. It would mean an extra trip to the store or some other minor inconvenience. Only my husband and two other people have my number, because I work under the premise that if I’m not home, I’m busy.
With a toddler in tow and a less than stellar car, the phone is primarily for emergencies, with the occasional Friday convenience of calling my husband to work out a dinner plan. This is a call I always make from the grocery store parking lot.
That way, only my son thinks I’m an ass this way. Mama, Let’s GO!