Passing notes in school was a covert operation. And, when unsuccessfully carried out under the watchful eye of a teacher, especially a nun, punishment was swift and painful.
A ruler, a flexible wooded yardstick, would administer a nasty rap to the knuckles—or worse, you could be required to “share with the class” the contents of your note. Reading out loud that “I was madly in love with Dudley”(the unsuspecting object of my affections went beet red, covered his head and never spoke to me again) is a 7th grader’s worst nightmare. Out-done only by Nelda having to read aloud that she just got her very first period and just couldn’t make heads or tails of the sanitary belt and napkin contraption (it was 1966 and the boys would turn pale at the mention and every girl in class died a thousand deaths of shared embarrassment).
Needless to say, passing notes lost its appeal early on for me. But here we are in 2016 and it seems that everyone just simply must share every mundane moment, stupid joke, or twittered tidbit of googled information via text, email, Facebook or cell phone. Where were these correspondence junkies when we had pay phones?
It was not so long ago that all restaurants had pay phones. During the course of a seven-hour waitress shift I might have seen customers, collectively, avail themselves of the phone maybe five times. For some reason folks didn’t seem to be so needy for a chit-chat with someone not present. There were no long lines waiting to use the pay telephones. Then, only doctors and drug dealers really required constant telecommunications. Oh, and God forbid if an employee dared to pop a quarter in and make a quick call during work—the manager would threaten you with a write-up (not a text-up, but a reprimand written with ink and paper). Now I can hardly serve a meal without dodging someone’s damn portable entertainment center.
And while most restaurants have strict policy against employee use of cell phones and all such electronic/cyber/music stuff during business hours, it still happens surreptitiously. A few businesses, however, are very relaxed concerning the multitasking of dual communication. Spending much time in food and beverage environs, either as an employee or as a customer, I have observed this addiction to rudeness grow.
Yes, rude. Customers have to endure shared eye contact with a small contraption as their bartender tries to converse with them and text another person elsewhere. I once worked with someone who checked and texted every five minutes with the same urgency and need as a chain smoker. That equals somewhere around 50 to 70 hits a work shift. And of course, the same bartender is rudely ignored by far too many customers who can’t put their cell phones down long enough to place an order.
Tangled and often obscured by earrings and one’s hair are the devices that fit into their ears—some are phones, others music. Hands and eyes might be free to work, yet concentration is impaired—so much so that while driving a car, studies now show impairment to equal drunk driving. A kitchen is not as serious as the highway, but that boiling hot pot of gumbo being toted by a cook trying to maneuver past someone grooving to a concert in their ears is an accident waiting to happen.
There have always been reckless, drunk, stoned, vision-impaired, hearing-impaired, distracted, and just plain stupid drivers, but nowadays they all have a damn cell phone in hand or implanted in their ear. Again I repeat, studies have shown that even hands-free devices seriously degrade response time and concentration while driving. If hands-free phone calls are the equivalent of drunk driving, then what must texting while driving an 18-wheeler be like?
Oh, the good ole days when telephones were plugged into one’s wall at home, rarely reaching the dining room table, and families actually talked to each other. Now the whole world is invited to text and yammer during dinner. Even when cordless phones became available, they couldn’t stray too far from the mother ship.
Everyone (except three people that I know) has a cell phone, I mean every family member, heck, soon the family dog or cat will have a little collar cell phone so the owner can truly call the critter inside for meals. Ah, but I remember when one phone, maybe two, were enough for a household, and the phone did not join you like a pair of shoes everywhere you went. And away from home, pay phones had your back if you needed to communicate.
Today telephone booths have pretty much become extinct and this is a shame. For god’s sake, how would Superman have changed into his crime fighting super-powered tights without a phone booth? And don’t forget Tippy Hendrin, Alfred Hitchcock’s heroine in “The Birds”. If not for the sanctuary of that phone booth she surely would have been pecked to bloody pieces. I’m not saying all phone booths offer a plan to save life, limb and the free world, but they sure are handy when your cell phone hits a dead zone.
All ranting and joking aside, we are truly backing ourselves into a cyber corner. Cursive handwriting will disappear from everyday usage before long, becoming merely a lost art form. Watches seem to have also disappeared from peoples’ wrists. Telephone manners went belly-up almost as soon as the first cell phone hit the streets. The U.S. Postal Service, newspapers, books, and bank tellers—all edging towards a state of obsolescence. And frankly, I do not like those damn birthday e-cards—send me something with a goddamn stamp on it that takes some ink, effort and energy to mail.
Do I really want to wish away all this new technology? No. I was profoundly moved by the amazing impact Facebook, Twitter and other wireless wonders had on the struggle for democracy in Iran. Information and knowledge are at the heart of freedom and the internet has and will continue to be invaluable when used wisely.
We can indulge in technology and not discard good manners, civility and the joy of tangible human contact. Perhaps for every twenty emails, we send one handwritten letter or postcard to a friend. In addition to e-banking, see if you still remember how to write a check or to balance your account. Reconnect with an old school chum via Facebook, but then back away from the laptop, walk outdoors and become acquainted with your next door neighbor. You might be pleasantly surprised to see technology trumped by personality.