Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Help! Life keeps distracting me from my iPhone

We all grew up learning the simple rules to avoid being rude: don't speak with your mouth full, no elbows on the table, don't interrupt, etc. As hard as they were at first, we all (almost all, anyway) learned how to avoid being rude. It was easy back then -- usually manners were most important around the dinner table, and everything was pretty basic. But now we have to ask ourselves -- with the ever-changing means of communication in our society, are we keeping tabs on new rules for manners? What now constitutes as being rude?

I think for the most part we have a general idea. Obviously texting while someone is giving a speech is rude. Taking a casual phone call while you are at dinner with a friend you haven't seen in years is rude. Yet, how many of us find ourselves doing that regardless? I am guilty. I have texted in class while the teacher is only five feet away, and though I felt bad about it, I did it anyway. It seems that the world is moving so fast that if something is not crucial to listen to, we choose not to. We do not like to be bored. While I'm not condemning this -- I do not like being bored either -- when does our need for never-ending entertainment hinder our ability to be a decent human being?

It's hard. It's hard not only because communication is so accessible and important to us, but because other people are also relying on us to be accessible. Once, I was in a conversation with my boyfriend via text. In the middle of the conversation, I got to the ice cream parlor I was meeting a friend at. I hadn't seen this friend in months, so I did not want to be rude and text the whole time. Although I should have took the time to text my boyfriend goodbye, I got to talking, and before I knew it, two hours had passed (like I said, I hadn't seen her in a while). I knew during the conversation that my boyfriend might be worried (we always say goodbye) but for the sake of being polite, I let my phone go. Anyway, though it wasn't a major problem, my boyfriend was a little worried about it. When we are usually so accessible, being taken off the communication map for two hours makes people start to question things.

One of my biggest pet peeves is being out with people who are not listening to you because they are on their phones. The problem is, this new technological era is so recent, that we haven't had the proper rules of politeness jammed into our brains, yet.

Another common issue I've heard people complain about is being in a public place where someone is talking on their cellphone. In New York, my friend told me how it is an unwritten rule not to talk on your cellphone on public transportation. I certainly know that I've overheard way too many personal conversations at the computer lab this semester, simply because a person was too lazy to walk outside and take their call. Maybe bigger cities have caught up with this problem, and we just have follow suit. Or maybe everyone already knows it's rude, and just chooses to do it anyway.

Bring Facebook into the mix, and we have a whole new headache. How many sexist/racist Facebook posts have you seen? I have seen many. Too many. While some people are called out on their rude remarks that were considered inappropriate decades ago, I've seen many slip easily under the radar. It makes sense, too -- it's hard enough to call someone out for being rude among five friends, let alone a thousand people. No one is worried about offending anyone else because the rules haven't been declared yet.

I am not condoning or condemning anything. My argument is simply that we do not know what is rude and not rude yet. We wouldn't play Scrabble while doing our business on the toilet, yet it's perfectly acceptable to play Words-with-Friends. Everything is so new that the social norms are scrambled. Freedom of speech took a whole new turn and so did communication. Maybe to me it's rude to text while I'm at dinner with my significant other, but to everyone else it seems normal. I do think it is worth thinking about, though. I am not a person that thinks everything should be "politically correct," but I do think that as a society, we've worked hard to get to a somewhat-mature level. We should not compromise this over a text or Facebook status. If people understand the rudeness of their actions, but do them anyway, where is the standard going to lie? Are we going to forget about manners altogether? Even more important, will this lead to a more free and relaxed society, or just plain chaos?

What do you think -- does our society need to re-evaluate what is rude and what isn't?