The other evening while visiting friends in Northwest Indiana, I had dinner with a few of them in a beautiful Mexican restaurant in Munster, a building that used to be the Town Hall. The staff was wonderful, and the food was absolutely delicious and plentiful. I was, however, unable to ignore a trio of diners in a booth across from our table. Sitting there were a man, who appeared to be in his late twenties, a beautiful woman his age (perhaps his wife or girlfriend), and an elderly woman of great dignity, handsomely dressed. My attention was drawn to the three only because they seemed utterly disengaged each from the other two. The young man was texting furiously even after his dinner was brought to him, the younger woman was playing games on her cellphone, as the older woman sat patiently as though she were a complete stranger. Not a word was spoken within the trio, as the games and texting continued, fingers taking little breaks only to ingest bits of the lovely food that had been served. The three might as well have been in separate rooms, separate states, or separate countries. At the same time, there was a look of supreme boredom on each of the three faces, as though all were going through the motions of patience in being with their companions. I felt most sad for the elderly woman, who had no toy to play with or other person with whom to chat.
This scene I have noticed being played out over and over again in restaurants and waiting rooms almost everywhere I go over the past few years. From where does such boredom and terrible rudeness come? Why have electronic images, texting, and games taken precedence over other human beings, who are in the same room or at the same table? We are becoming more and more desensitized in being beguiled by little devices that make the rest of the world around us simply disappear. Though I don’t think people really intend to be callous, they seem unaware that such behavior is uncivil at best. Such discourtesy compromises who we are and who we can be in a society that is becoming increasingly “virtual” and impersonal, despite the unending messages by phone and computer companies that we are all “connected.”
I’d like to think that I’m not alone in my concern that simple manners and consideration for others around us are fading into a colossal discourtesy so prevalent that it is not even noticed anymore by most people under the age of forty. The group with whom I had dinner that evening also noticed the lack of etiquette at the other table and were as appalled as I was at the apparently hardened, unfeeling behavior that came from ignoring others at their shared table. I’m not sure what can be done about such numbed social graces, but I can hope only that most people can figure out for themselves that they need to treat their companions with more respect and more kindness than to show that a text message, electronic game, or cellphone call is more important than being human. Finally, the problem may not even be a matter of social correctness as much as an issue of being conscious of how we ourselves would like to be treated in the same circumstances. JB