NPF: THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

Sometimes I worry that I am turning into Andy Rooney as I get older, and twenty years from now ginandtacos.com is going to be beaming (directly into your brain stem, I assume) rants about how every time I open a bag of potato chips it's already half empty. What is the deal with that? Did I not pay for a whole bag, Lay's? AOL-Chrysler Lay's, a division of Citibank Grumman?

When I witness behaviors in public and social settings and conclude that society is going to hell on a greased shutter, my Andy Rooney fear seems well placed. Imagine an old man going on a rant about how kids are wearing baggy pants and don't say "sir" or "ma'am" anymore and the whole country's going to hell. When I feel myself drifting into that territory, I try not to share those feelings with the world.

Today we're going full Rooney.

Like many people it bothers me quite a bit when I am interacting with another person – face to face, not electronically – and they are glued to a spacephone. Texting, twittering, checking email, staring aimlessly at the internet, etc. It's not unreasonable to expect that when someone is trying to talk with you, you will, like, listen to them and maybe make some eye contact and respond and stuff. Don't ask me to lunch with you or to meet you at the bar tonight if all you plan on doing is staring at the internet. I can sit around alone at home and I don't need to go out and spend money for the privilege.

I think that's fair. I'm not being unnecessarily uptight on that point; if a person is speaking to you in a social setting, do not ignore them to start staring at Facebook. That isn't asking much.

Of course, the younger generation has no problem doing this, mostly because they are physically and emotionally incapable of NOT staring at the internet or texting, etc. for more than a few minutes at a time. And over time we see more and more people comfortable engaging in this kind of behavior. I'm picking on The Kids, but older people do it too (especially Very Important Business Types). We can agree that it's irritating but it's hardly worth blowing out of proportion, right?

Two incidents.

First, I was dining in a swank restaurant in February. A woman was on her cellphone and couldn't possibly hang up long enough to interact with a waiter (not to mention her dining companion). Yet she needed the waiter's services. Her solution was to loudly snap her fingers at him, not unlike one would do to a dog, and point at her plate to indicate that she wanted pepper on her salad.

Second, I had to spend that pointless day at the DMV getting a license and plates last fall. There was a large sign over the service counter stating that people would not be served unless they stopped talking on their cellphone when the reached the front of the line. I asked the kindly bureaucrat who served me if this sign was preemptive or if people actually expected to be served while yapping away on the phone. She assured me that people do exactly that all the time.

Look. We already have the regrettable tendency to treat other people like they are of no value whatsoever to us, especially strangers and/or people in the service industry. I'm not exactly a stickler for etiquette and I'm not going to complain that America's Goin' To Hell because we violate some rule from Emily Post about using the proper salad fork. But I think it's fair to be alarmed at our willingness to expect people to interact with us while we ignore them. I worry about that. I worry about what it says about our society and how little we care about anyone other than ourselves. I worry that our already waning interest in the people around us has entered some sort of death spiral.

That's straight Andy Rooney. I recognize it. But what the hell, people. When you can't be bothered to hang up or stop texting long enough to nod, smile, or perhaps speak to another human being, we have a problem. When you leave your house you accept an implicit social contract that requires you to respond to the presence of other people. You have to brake when they are in crosswalks, step around them on sidewalks, and speak to them when you need or want to interact with them. It's tough, I know, but nobody said life would be easy.

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52 Responses to “NPF: THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION”

  1. Cap'n Billy Says:

    re: snapping fingers in restaurants.

    This used to be (still is?) common behavior in Germany. The first time I heard it I was sure the waiter would punch the guy out, but apparently he was used to it. So now you know who else snapped his fingers in restaurants….