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.