Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cell Phones, Interpersonal Skills, and Rudeness

Now that I've well and truly entered the world of parenting teenagers, I've really been struggling to deal with the courtesy standards of cell phones/smart phones.  My 16-year old son, Valiant, is the proud possessor of a smart phone.  While I know this is much later than some of you have granted this privilege to their children, Superman and I feel pretty strongly that these phones are privileges kids have to earn.  With this phone, not only can Valiant text quickly to his friends, he can watch videos, play games, and read his email anywhere he'd like.  This newfound ability is requiring us, as parents, to come up with a whole new paradigm for etiquette concerning cell phone usage. 

After watching how Valiant and his friends use their phones, I've come to one simple conclusion:  Texting back and forth while you are with other people is no different than being in a group at the table and obviously whispering with someone.  We teach our children that it is rude to whisper when in a group; that pointedly excluding people is hurtful and rude.  When my son is texting back and forth with his friends, he chuckles, he chortles, he smirks, and the people sitting right next to him have no idea what is going, what is so funny.  I found it very disconcerting to realize I was feeling excluded, left out, and, more importantly, hurt by the feeling of exclusion.

Have you ever been to lunch with a friend and seen them set their phone on the table next to them?  As the meal goes on, you become aware that their eyes are darting to the phone with certain regularity.  Then, without warning, a beep, a tone, a vibration, and your friend says, "Excuse me," and, picking up the phone, texts a little something, smiles, and sets the phone back down.  Another beep, another text, and it may or may not be done at that.  You don't ask, because it is rude to inquire about a private exchange, was rude for that conversation to have happened in front of you. 

Maybe you are the person tied to your phone.  Maybe you constantly check for a text.   I wonder, though, how many of us have thought this through.   I don't know.  I just know that as I look around, I see this happening more and more.  Mothers pushing strollers while having energetic conversations via blue tooth, while the occupant of the stroller goes unacknowledged.  A group of kids standing next to each other, completely ignoring each other in favor of the handheld device in their palm.  A teenaged couple sharing a table and one or both are busily texting.  A modern-day date?  Um, I'm glad I'm from the Dark Ages.  That just doesn't sound fun to me.

Interpersonal relations?  More like parallel play.

We are marginalizing the people we spend time with in favor of the people who are connected to us by technology.

I recognize that our manners, our standards of etiquette, have not kept pace with our technological advances, but I think we need to try harder to treat the people in front of us, right there with us, with courtesy.  The truth of the matter, as I see it, is that cell phones/smart phones have allowed us to treat the people we're with poorly.  Whether they are our friends, our parents, the cashier at the grocery store, we really need to remember that the people in front of us deserve our full attention and to give them anything less is downright rude. 

1 comment:

Sew Ducky said...

I only answer it if it's Neal, and then usually because he pays the bill for it. And my phone announces who is calling.

Mine sits on the table at home, and I will answer it here, maybe. Drives the MIL nuts since she always wants to know where we are, and I seldom answer it.

But yes, you have a point to it all.