Text manners

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Miss Manners and other purveyors of good behaviour have spent years explaining the ins and outs of how polite people should interact. It’s a world that’s endlessly complex: what are the manners implications of choosing the right present — or any present — for your ex’s stepchild’s junior high graduation present?

What is the right colour for the bride’s dress at a fourth marriage?

If you should attend a pet wedding, what are the dress requirements?

It is all, to put it bluntly, an ever-growing puzzlement.

But if there is one place that clearly needs an injection of both manners and common sense, it’s the ever-expanding world of cellphone manners.

To put it bluntly, smart phones are no defence against ignorant people — and ignorant people, it seems, are a subset growing every bit as quickly as phones seem destined to leap from 4-G to 5-G to heebie-jeebie.

Now, both calls and texts can seem like the most urgent matter you’ve ever dealt with, as they buzz or ring or shiver there in your pocket — truly, like Pavlov’s drooling dogs, when you know there’s something going on (and especially when there’s a limited number of rings before voicemail), you want to get to your phone before you miss it. You can feel that urge like a physical need. (Even if it’s only the phone company, robocalling you to tell you about the latest available option.)

Problem is, you’re already deep in conversation with your spouse/workmate/boss. Instead of turning rudely from the conversation and barking into the phone, it’s best to either finish the conversation or apologize for having to take the call. You could, in fact, miss it — the world is unlikely to end, unless you are Barack Obama and the caller is an irate and unstable North Korean dictator preparing to launch missiles. In that case, take the call.

Perhaps you are in the lineup in the liquor store, furiously instant messaging someone. No doubt, your messages are important — has there ever been an instant message that was not the stuff of “one small step for man”? Of course not. But your first responsibility is to the social function that you have already committed to — the ordered process of taking your turn that makes humanity work. When the line moves ahead, you should as well, even if Beth has electronically announced that Brad is a toadweasel. If you must continue the furious message-chat, step out of line.

Another thing that happens when your cellphone rings — it rings. Perhaps it is not too much of an imposition for you to consider how your ring choice affects others who surround you. You may find the snarling chainsaw sound at full volume, or the repeated guitar riff of doom, or the random tuneless whistling man, to be charming. Bear in mind, others might not. Volume controls are also there for a reason.

And they don’t make pocket-sized phones so you can leave them to ring themselves stupid on your desk while you’re somewhere else.

This collection of mannerly advice wouldn’t be complete without a nod to safety as well. Cars and phones are a dangerous mix. Not convinced that reading texts distracts you from the job at hand — for example, driving?

Earlier this week, a Telegram editor watched a person texting in a St. John’s grocery store push her shopping cart directly into a display of soft drinks, completely oblivious to her surroundings. If you can do that at a walking pace, imagine the carnage involved at driving speed.

The bottom line? We live in a real world. The delightful distractions of the electronic universe should play a secondary role to that.

And real people, the real people standing next to you, deserve at least as much consideration as the disembodied voice or text at the other end of your umbilical phone.

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Recent comments

  • saelcove
    April 05, 2013 - 09:38

    no one ever hear of hands free just push the button on the wheel hello, hang up push the button on the wheel good by

  • McLovin
    April 05, 2013 - 08:27

    Cell phones are the least of our worries when it comes to ignorance. Ignorance was prevalent before cell phones and will be prevalent long after they are gone and if you don't know what I am talking about, just go to Costco on any given Saturday. Saying cell phones make people ignorant is like saying guns kill people. Yeah, they might contribute to ignorance as a whole, but at the end of the day it all boils down to the person responsible for the phone. The people you mention above would still be just as ignorant, whether or not they had a cell phone.

  • wavy
    April 04, 2013 - 14:35

    In an attempt to adopt an appropriate vernacular for the target audience this editorial is addressing, my one-word response is: word.

  • Insurance Victim
    April 04, 2013 - 10:09

    @Max: You may a good point about female driers. Men, especially young men, pay more insurance because at one time they had more accidents. That way of thinking must now be challenged with the proliferation of cells and (young) female drivers.

  • Max Roe
    April 04, 2013 - 08:09

    Excellent article! As a first responder I perhaps have more insight into the dangers electronic devices cause than most. I have attended an increasing number of single vehicle RTAs that occurred on clear, dry days indicating the cause to be excessive speed or driver inattention. Also have noted that a disproportionate number of the drivers are young females. Fortunately, the technology is available to disable these devices once a certain speed is reached. In the interest of safety I sincerely hope this happens soon. Respectfully, Max