One of the ironies (to me anyway) of our time is the illusion that because we have cellphones and computers, we are more engaged with the world around us. In fact, I find that we can be more disengaged because of those devices.
Whenever I’m driving my car, I encounter at intersections someone in front of me who is so entranced by talking or texting on a cellphone that I need to sound my horn to arouse his or her attention in order to continue driving before the next light or to clarify the need at four-way stops that there are other drivers waiting for a clue too.
On one level, it’s really all about paying attention to one’s surroundings. There seems to be an increasingly blasé attitude by many cellphone users for whom the rest of humanity and the world at large simply disappear. I don’t know if this phenomenon is based upon the feeling of being more popular, important, or the delusion that any outside contact while driving must be even more urgent than avoiding a collision. Whatever the reason, many people seem to be more and more withdrawn from the actual, physical world around them as though hypnotized by the electronic device.
Just because one can find out instantly on his phone where in the world Bantu is spoken doesn’t mean that person is in any way aware of what’s going on around him. I get cold chills when I see another car speeding past mine, its driver on a cellphone, talking or texting, oblivious of anyone or anything in the immediate, physical environment. I weary too of seeing the increasingly accepted rudeness of cellphone users in restaurants and waiting rooms as they prattle on as though the folks around them are completely inconsequential. The scariest issue to me is that this impudence and grinding disrespect seem to be accepted more and more by too many as the price we must pay for that nebulous but sacred quest for “progress.”
I love the anecdote about the man on public transportation seated beside a young woman who was talking and cooing obnoxiously to her boyfriend for almost an hour as she grew louder and louder, cackling in the most ear-piercing way between comments. The gentleman seated next to her, having noticed the general annoyance of other passengers in the vicinity, simply grabbed the girl’s phone, saying into it, “Aw, come on, honey. Take off your robe and come back to bed!”
We, as a society, seem to have reached a point where we are confusing freedom of speech and movement with downright disrespect. Maybe when our sense of indignation and irritation reach the final border of tolerance about cellphone offenses in public, there will be a kind of mass revolt to bring back some level of mutual respect and a more sensitive awareness of public places and transportation. JB