One of my biggest pet peeves is how everyone now takes out their devices constantly, and checks their messages. The other day, at an Elvis Costello concert, the woman on my left did it every three minutes. It was like she had a nervous twitch. I very nicely leaned over and said, "Please, the light from your Ipad is very disconcerting. Every time you turn it on, it catches the reflection in my glasses and distracts me from the music." She responded: "Well, you getting up to dance is just as annoying."
I wanted to smack her. I was so shocked by her response, I mumbled something like, “Okay, so I won't dance.” But this was ridiculous, because we were in the back row on the floor, and there was a seat between us. My dancing did not block her view, nor was I touching her. Later that week, during an IMAX 3D movie at a museum, the woman in front of me started looking at her Facebook account. I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "Do you mind? Please turn it off, put it away, and watch the movie.” I could go on and on with examples like these. And don't even get me started on the people who walk around in the grocery store talking loudly on their cell phones as they shop. And yet, no one seems to regard my opinion as correct. What should I do?
Sick of Smartphones
Dear Sick of Smartphones:
I regard your opinion as correct. Well, for the most part, anyway. Checking your tablet repeatedly during a public concert could be distracting. This behavior might not irritate everyone, since concerts are usually loud and chaotic and packed with people who are doing zany things like dancing. But during a film -- where there should be a reasonable presumption of stillness and darkness -- these 4G speed freaks might as well be freebasing crack. It’s that distracting.
And yet, I must admit, I am probably one of the people you want to smack. I like to take videos and post them in real time so my friends know I’m all that. I like to check who’s at a concert, and chat publicly about it because that is cool. I frequently talk on my phone at the grocery store (even Whole Foods, when I can get reception) because I like to return calls while strolling mindlessly through the fresh fruit section. Shopping can be boring. And the bananas never have much to say.
And, texting? OMG. I HEART texting. I’ve never understood those fuddy duddies who mourn the loss of “real conversations.” Real conversations? Is that what we used to have, over the phone? You mean those heartfelt talks with people who returned your call while strolling mindlessly through the fruit section? Most of MY real conversations seemed to involve waiting for the phone to connect, getting dropped, calling back, listening to a voicemail robot explain how to leave a message, and then recording a stupid message just to close the loop. The other person didn’t even hear the phone ring. They were watching a movie in 3D.
Texting, on the other hand, is awesome. It’s quiet, direct, efficient. And now, with emojis of zucchini, so very entertaining! I understand why some people hate it. It’s addictive. It sucks us small-minded people in. We open our phones in the middle of conversations, and concerts. But as an early adopter, I can’t help but view texting as a great advance to modern civilization. When I hear parents complain about how much texting their teens do, I just want to roll the videotape of myself talking, for hours on end, with my middle school girlfriends – phone cord stretched all the way down the hall, and under the door of my bedroom -- about the latest Loverboy album. Unfortunately, no such video exists. Because we didn’t have smart phones back then. Just perpetually occupied ones, with really long tangled cords.
So, how can I harmonize these two, contradictory positions, and give advice on coping with gadget junkies, knowing full well that I drink in my own device like a speedball cocktail?
Here is how. I sympathize with tech addicts, but I also follow the rules. As with so many issues of human behavior, this issue needs to be managed with rules. If there is a stated rule or even a strongly suggested policy against the use of devices -- and there is now at most movies, theatrical performances, public lectures, and school classrooms – then I put my device away. No questions asked. Done. And if I don’t, I fully expect to be reprimanded, and for other customers to complain. Shaming someone publicly for being disruptive is perfectly acceptable if that person was warned in advance that their behavior would be disruptive.
In the absence of official injunctions, I’m afraid this issue comes to down to common courtesy. And common courtesy only works, I'm afraid, if people share common beliefs. On this issue – with its rapid-changing technology, and its vast generation/culture gap – there isn’t much commonality. Whether you complain or not, the dance-hating ninnies will still record Elvis Costello for their fake friends on Facebook, and the middle aged losers will continue to answer phone calls from their mom (it’s always my mom), and force you to listen to their whole life story, while you chat quietly with your organic bananas.
There is simply no common belief system to govern this behavior. There won’t be for some time, maybe ever. I get that. There isn’t even one inside my own head. But that’s why people make rules. That’s why they have Quiet Cars on trains. And cartoons of canine-esque red balls that remind people to turn off their phones before a movie. That’s why we’re finally seeing laws against holding cellphones while driving. People couldn’t practice common courtesy. Or common sense. So they got rules.
I understand why this issue bugs you. Smartphones are addicting, and distracting. But try to remember that we --- all of us, even the smart phone dummies -- put up with things that bother us too, all the time. You know what bothers me most in a movie? When the person next to me is loudly munching on a huge bucket of popcorn. I hate popcorn. Also, I have a pet peeve about listening to people munch while I'm trying to have an emotional moment with a hobbit. And some people seriously attack that popcorn like they are making sweet love to it. And that is obviously not OK.
Complain when you want to! Enlist the help of ushers if you want! But for your self preservation, you may also need to accept that some people in this world will always dance to the sound of their own ringtones. And sometimes, all we can do is dance away -- across the theater, to a different seat – so we can’t see the phone anymore. Or hear the sound of that infernally hot and heavy munching.