In the past 10 years, we have seen technology take a huge role in our daily lives. As a teacher, I now take attendance, post grades and create homework links online, and so on. Some forms are supposedly to make us more efficient and save time. I have seen some very scary things occurring, though.
As a middle school English teacher, I see not only my teenage students disengaged with one another, but also their adult parents always attached to their gadgets.
In the 1980s and 1990s, I would be disgusted to see someone in a restaurant smoking, and until the California law passed making it illegal to do so, I had to just deal with it. Now my disgust comes from another social norm: the cellphone at the dinner table. Seeing a family of four in a restaurant all on their own devices, texting, Facebooking, Tweeting, or playing some sort of application game.
No one is engaged with each other. No one is even talking to each other. Why bother to go out to eat? Isn’t eating out supposed to be a social thing, sharing about your day and sharing a meal?
To me, using your phone at a time like that is one of the most vulgar and rude things to do to someone. To me, it is like saying, “You are here in front of me, fellow human being, but I am so addicted to this device, I am going to check my email right here at the table rather than engage with you.” (I interpret this as a modern-day middle finger.)
Also, there is the classic Bluetooth situation, retail people know this well, the person talking on a cellphone during an entire financial transaction at the grocery store or bank. We should be repulsed by this behavior in our society and culture.
About 12 years ago, before I got my first cellphone, I was traveling in Europe. As a college student at the time, I was invited to several dinner parties while I was there. In Sweden in particular, I noticed that everyone at that time had cellphones, while back here in the States, they were just beginning to become more popular.
At these gatherings of young adults, there would be a large bowl placed by the front door. At first I wasn’t sure what it was. Then, as people would arrive, they would turn off their phones and toss them inside until they left at the end of the evening. It was as if they were taking off their coats or something, a standard norm.
I didn’t think anything of it until the past few years, when my skin has crawled seeing people use their cellphones at the most inappropriate times.
Have we forgotten about any form of etiquette in the U.S.? How come no one ever talks about social cellphone rules? How can anyone not be offended and insulted at a dinner party when the guests are texting on the couch or answering personal phone calls during a get-together?
Adults seem to be a little better at this etiquette, but not by much, and not in church; it seems the older cellphone users can’t seem to figure out how to silence them at all. I have been greatly offended by adults choosing to play games, check email, answer personal calls, business calls or Facebook rather than engage with me or my family.
The kids are an even more scary situation. Parents need to teach these social rules to their children. Is it OK to walk up to a teenager and say hello to instigate a conversation, and they cannot seem to look up from their phone to respond? Are these the kinds of kids we want in the world? Ones who cannot stop what they are doing to have a real conversation with someone?
I understand that technology has an important role in our lives, and it can be an amazing thing, but sometimes it is nice not to be reached. Can we try to unplug and learn the rules so we can foster genuine relationships with physical contact? I am not going to go “off the grid” and unplug completely, but maybe the Europeans have gotten it right, by prioritizing true communication and unplugging at appropriate times.
Let’s teach the next generation what is important by making it a social stigma to use technology inappropriately. Hopefully, just like the dirty looks the smokers got in the 1980s, people will do that to the cellphone violators.
Ingrid Adams has taught English at Baymonte Christian Middle School since 2005.