Tuesday, August 09, 2005


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."


Blogger she falters to rise said...

One of those nightly news programs had a show on cell phone use and manners. One of the most interesting sections of their show dealt with cell phone use when you are with another person (i.e., a friend, spouse, co-worker). They filmed pairs of people who were out on the town to show the body language of the person who wasn't receiving the cell phone call. It was amazing to see the withdrawal and, sometimes, sadness of a person when their partner answered a call. I thought it was interesting because when my husband answers his phone during "our time", I always feel crushed and socially isolated. I wonder what type of butterfly effect cell phone use is having on relationships--both personal and professional.

We always talk about how annoying and impolite cell phone use is to those around us, but often we forget what it does to our social network, our connectedness as a society.

Lucky for me, my cell phone rings less than once a month, so I don't have to worry about being a social offender;)

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

some interesting thoughts... i know i can't too well, but i'm forced to when taking a history - listening, writing, thinking, speaking... i'm sure i come off like i'm not engaged sometimes...

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Wendy O said...

Great entry! It's so true...people are obsessed with their cell phones. Some use it as a social crutch or security blanket, much in the same way that wall flowers use cigarettes and drinks at clubs.

I think that society in general is rude, has always been rude, and will forever be made up of rude individuals. Most people live for themselves and don't bother with the idea of not bringing a screaming baby to a midnight movie.

However, I do have to disagree on one point...the cobblers time is just as important as a doctor's. Maybe you were just being funny, but, how condescending is THAT? I work two jobs and I might not save lives for a living, but my life span is just as short as anyone elses.

9:56 AM  
Blogger James said...

SFTR: Ha, I don't even carry a cell phone with me, though I do keep one in the car! I'm not sure if that speaks for my insouciance or that there aren't many people in that much of a need to really talk to me. I expect, though, as Feri comes closer to being due, that I will indeed have the cell phone with me, and I'll even keep it on.

Dr. C: I do something similar when my wife is talking to me and I'm "thinking". Actually I am thinking, but it hadn't occurred to me that my expression was different and it turns out there's this glaze I get to my eyes and my right eye slightly twitches - my wife knows I'm listening to her (she's convinced herself of this on a number of occasions), but I'm focused on something to such a degree that I slip into a different mode of listening. I'd hazard to guess that your reaction is something similar, you're in a sense multi-processing, but how you may appear to someone watching you can lead them to believe you're not paying attention.

Wendy: First, thanks for the compliment, and second, no, I wasn't being funny at all. Indeed, the cobbler's time isn't worth as much and I'm inclined to think you'd really agree with this. I'm not talking about the intrinsic worth of a cobbler or a doctor as people, in that sense they're entitled to the same courtesy and dignity as they're equally as worthy. But when it comes to society's valuation of what they do cobblers fail to meet a measure of equality with doctors for the following reasons:

1. We readily pay doctors more for what they do, and indeed deem what a doctor is capable of doing as worth the extra money we pay (whether how much we pay is proper is not the issue, just that we'd be far more inclined to pay a doctor more than a cobbler.)

2. We expect more of doctors, and in turn hold them to a higher degree of accountability for what they do, which in turns drives how much they can charge for what they do.

3. And the final test, if you were on a desert island with a choice of but one companion, what would you choose, a doctor or a cobbler?

So while a cobbler and a doctor are equal as human beings, how much they're remunerated and we value their services differs. We can live long without cobblers, but not without doctors, and the market, with its overall pedestrian concerns, drives how much we're willing to reward someone for being a doctor, which is invariably more than most other professions in general.

3:05 PM  

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