When was the last time you dared to go phone-free? Kate Ancell is willing to bet it's been a whileand shes got some etiquette notes for those who just cant kick the habit.
Illustrations by PVE Designs
Recently, a friend of mine made the decision to go off the grid—she turned in her cell phone, quit Facebook, and was even this-this close to getting rid of call-waiting and a home answering machine, until cooler heads prevailed. She says it’s the best decision, hands down, she’s ever made—for one thing, her commitments have certainly decreased (often, by the time she gets a message about a committee or room-parent event, for example, the job’s already been done, which may be a salutary lesson to us all). Also, she says, she feels like she’s able, for the first time in a very, very long while, to be truly present in her life—untethered, she’s able to pay attention in a meaningful way to the current, without worrying about the bigger river, rushing by.
The thought of making this decision for myself terrified me. And so I started mulling on our dependence on technology; how it’s become, not a communication tool, but our very lifeblood. It informs our every move and decision—which is why it’s surely doubly, triply important to behave properly in the e-world.
Back in the day, when I was in high school, a girl I knew found a videotape…featuring a prominent member of the school board and her recently divorced mother. With role play, costumes, and some sort of definite plotline, although adhering to it wasn’t exactly the point of the exercise, as it turned out. Now, one can debate the merits of the mere existence of such a tape (not to mention the foolish lack of secure storage for it); one can even feel some sympathy for the poor girl’s psyche—but it’s impossible to put the genie back in the visual bottle, and once a tape like that is out there, it’s out there. As in, the featured entertainment at high school parties for years (and, apparently, also amongst some adults, who were seriously schadenfreude-ish about seeing Board Member Man’s dignity get a real comeuppance).
Which brings me to my point—back then, tapes like this were more of a rarity: There were production challenges, if nothing else. But now, with flip cameras and smartphones in the hands of many children, it is far too easy to overshare. And it’s also much, much harder to delete an ill-conceived message—a tape, or video, or text, or whathaveyou, can be around the world in the time it takes to realize it’s been sent. And once out there? It’s in the ether, forever.
And so I beg you—please, please reconsider that racy message with picture embedded. Consider your possible audience. My beloved grandmother once taught me that I should never send a letter that I wouldn’t want my mother to read. And you know what? The lady was light-years ahead of her time.
Great to Hear Your Voice…Mail!
Used to be, if you wanted to speak with someone, you called them on the (home) phone, and one of three things happened: You reached them and had a conversation; you got a busy signal, waited a while, and then tried again; or no one was home, you let it ring 10 times, and then hung up. Then came answering machines with erasable tapes and big rotating dials that clunked into place, and car phones that took up the entire passenger seat and required the use of a rubberized shoulder rest to place your head on while you talked. And then, bang, speed, wallop, things started to evolve, faster and faster…and now everyone over about the age of four has at least one private cell number—often more, allocated to outsiders according to their importance or position on the corporate or social ladder.
And now, lo, the day has come when we don’t even really expect to speak with the actual person we have called. Many’s the time I’ve answered my phone, only to hear a startled voice say (sounding somewhat annoyed about it): “Oh! I didn’t think you’d answer! I was just going to leave a message for you!”
Which makes me wonder if we’re actually about to evolve, technologically, past the point of no return. I picture the future as a barren wasteland of recorded voices, virtual scrolling libraries of banal e-mail messages with a liberal overuse of the reply-to-all function, and a lack of human interaction.
Doom and gloom and the sign of impending middle age? Perhaps. But I don’t think so! I believe that one of our most important jobs as adults is to guide the next generation into a better and more effective means of communication with one another. Not faster, speedier, or “more is better.” Just plain-old better. Which means, you know, talking to one another. In real time. Or, to use a term the younger gen might get—F2F. kthxbai.
When Your Blackberry Is Your “Plus One”
Everyone has their pet peeves. One of my biggest (apart from animals dressed as people) is the savant-like behavior of people who are devoted to their Blackberries in an almost unseemly way. You know them—people who, in the middle of a conversation or sometimes even in the middle of their own sentence, suddenly whip out their ’berry, trailing off into an incoherent series of vowels, and begin to scroll through messages or—worse, possibly—to text, while simultaneously holding one finger up in the universal “hang on a second” position.
It seems that people have become so tethered to their electronic cellmates that any moment of being incommunicado is one moment too many. Even—especially—at social events. Maybe it’s the Paris Hilton fake-talk-on-the-phone-so-I-look-busy-thing, or maybe it’s just the fear of being out of the loop that makes people constantly, obsessively, check their phones…but there’s just something off about seeing a group of friends at a cocktail party or dinner all hooked up to their devices, instead of hooking up with one another. Here’s a thought: Consider leaving the smartphone at home (or at least in the car) next time you get together with friends. It’s shocking how much more you’ll get out of the encounter—and you’re likely to find that being unreachable will tend to make you über-desirable, too.