I went shopping at Staples yesterday to pick up things I'll be needing for the new job, and whatever else met a need that I wasn't aware I had before I walked in the store (those can be the most expensive purchases, alas ...) As I browsed the aisles I noticed a section where the store had the sort of signs you hang up next to the checkout counter in a store, like "We accept
all major credit cards", except the sign that caught my eye was "Please turn off your cell phone." Talk about evolving, right? I mean ten years ago you'd never see a sign like that, but not because we were necessarily more courteous rather more because cell phones then were not cheap and were the size of a shoebox, so lugging them around and using them was not so easy to do.
This reminded me of a recent visit to a shoe repair place a few weeks ago. I had come to pick up shoes that I had dropped off for my wife a month earlier. I had forgotten about picking them up on their "repair" date. I wasn't feeling too guilty about forgetting and having to be called to come get the shoes inasmuch as I had already paid for the repair, so it wasn't that the cobbler (wow, does that word still work these days for someone who repairs shoes? Interesting, I hadn't thought of that before) was put out for not getting paid, he just wanted to get the shoes out of his bin. So I came in and he was in the middle of something. He was a guy about my age and size, a bit stronger than me in the arms, and a no-nonsense look on his face, though he was a pleasant enough guy to talk to. As I waited I noticed a handmade sign which was a variation on the Staples sign, his saying "Please don't use cells phones at the counter." I asked him if cell phone use was a really that much of a problem and for as much as a guy like this would ever roll his eyes he proceeded to, and said, "You wouldn't believe it. They come in here and expect you to stand there waiting on them while they finish whatever it is they have to say on their phones. I've had it, especially after some guy did it to me and I made a point of saying something to him and he looked at me and said, 'I'm a doctor, my time is valuable and I need to multi-task.' What, his time is valuable and mine isn't?"
Ok, who'd argue that a cobbler's time is indeed not as valuable as a doctor's? I wouldn't, I mean really, doctors are out there saving lives, relieving pain and suffering, spearheading new medical research, talking to their brokers, and making golf dates with God knows who. Moreover anyone knows that on a per hour basis a doctor makes FAR more than a cobbler. But the rub is that the doctor's not in HIS office, he's in someone else's office and by virtue of that he doesn't have ownership of the time where he stands as it's not his to use as he sees fit. The doctor figures he's multitasking, as do apparently many others given Staples selling signs about cell phone use, but his multitasking was coming at the cost of being discourteous to someone else. Apparently we're seeing an epidemic here given Staples selling signs and the number of handmade signs I've been noticing at checkout counters lately.
It seems that this is indicative of a general trend in discourteousness. Nowadays we go to the movies and invariably one of the shorts inflicted on us has something to do with reminding you of your manners - don't talk while watching the movie, don't smoke in the theater, turn off your cell phone, don't litter, try not engage in blatant or too smelly flatulence - you've all seen them, and if I have to see the one with Charlie Sheen and company one more time I think I'm going to scream. Why is this necessary? Because many of us are out of touch with good manners, or more fundamentally how to be courteous to others, and we need silly reminders from movie chains to remind us what any good citizen and well-mannered and considerate person should just know.
This isn't just people "multi-tasking", it's people who've lost sense of their place and appropriateness. People on cells phones while they drive present an extra danger to themselves and anyone they're driving with and around, but that's no never mind to them. People in restaurants who feel a need to whip out that cell phone are what, lonely? In need of a second opinion about the entree? Or are they just so caught up in their sense of self-importance that it wouldn't occur to them to not take that call which will invariably present a disturbance to their guest(s) (well, maybe, often THEY have cell phones, too) and most certainly to those sitting around them and without a doubt the waiter/waitress standing there ready to take their order?
I don't know that people are more rude now than they were 100 years ago, though I'm inclined to doubt it. My general sense is that people are pretty much the same from century to century. The problem today is that they've more tools with which to be rude with, and damn if they're not taking advantage of that for all it's worth. Common courtesy and good manners are something to be honed and cherished, but it does seem that many of us have some skewed sense that this is even remotely important. That we have gone so far astray with this as to have to be reminded of good manners before enjoying a movie by, of all people, Charlie Sheen via a public service announcement does tend to rise my level of concern a bit. That said, it's a sad thing when we lose sight of courtesy, and basically treating others with a measure of respect and consideration; like the bumper sticker sort of says, "Practice random acts of kindness and consideration, and be surprised when someone does the same for you."