Friday, May 25, 2018

The Cancer Has Metastasized

     Quite recently, the following exchange took place at my dinner table:

FWP: What do you think you’re doing?
Dinner Guest: (diddles her cell phone) I’m just answering a text.

FWP: Did it inform you of your impending demise?
Guest: What? No! It’s—
FWP: Because if you don’t turn that thing off and put it down right now, that will be the news of the day.

     “Dinner Guest” was a 67-year-old woman. On the cited occasion, her husband, a retired deputy sheriff, sat across from her. He didn’t say a word. He did award me a barely perceptible nod. He’d given up on retraining his wife in the courtesies. Apparently he was happy to leave the job to me.

     As you can see, I’m not infinitely tolerant. I certainly don’t tolerate cell phone use at my dinner table. I had to “teach” the C.S.O. that, too. Operant conditioning, don’t y’know.

     Just yesterday one of my fellow parishioners brought an un-silenced cell phone to Mass. It rang twice in the middle of the ceremony. On each occasion he left the chapel to answer it. No one else seemed disturbed by it, though the celebrant took conspicuous note.

     I’ve had it with the whole cell phone disaster. Absent a true miracle – say, an EMP attack that only strikes cell phones – we’re not going to recover. We’ve lost too much ground.

     Allow me to quote from a previous essay:

     In one of his most insightful moments, Adam Smith wrote that an individual will regard a cut on his finger as of greater moment than a famine in a faraway place. Moreover, he did so approvingly. That which is near should matter more than that which is far away, even when other things are not nearly equal. What’s near has the greatest potential for affecting you, whether positively or negatively. It should command the greater part of your attention.

     Attention. There’s a word to ponder, Gentle Reader. What is attention? What does it mean to “attend” to something? The Latin root tangere means “to touch” or “to hold.” You cannot touch or hold what’s distant, only what’s near. And if someone is near enough to you to touch – near enough to caress or strike you – ought you not to give him your attention?

     One of a parent’s most important duties is teaching his children to pay attention – and not solely to him. What’s around you is the most important source of all things good or bad. Indeed, the great majority of persons and things are potentially good or bad, or both – and what you fail to attend to can turn bad, perhaps lethal, in the blink of those eyes you can’t detach from your smartphone.

     There’s nothing that transforms proximity to hostility and contempt as surely or efficiently as being ignored.

     Thanks to the cell phone – especially the “smart” variety – spouses are tolerating the crassest of discourtesies from those nearest to them. Yet we gape at the rising tides of divorce, intramarital hostility, and spousal abuse, and ask one another what the reason could possibly be. It is to laugh...hollowly, and with many a tear.

     The cell phone has trained millions of Americans to pay more attention to what is far away than to what is near to hand. The training has been appallingly effective. Indeed, I sometimes wonder whether the engineers who designed and produced the foul things intended that consequence.

     As far as I know, cell phone jammers are only outlawed in public places. If that’s so, I think it might be time to acquire two: one for installation in my parish church, the other for my home.

     Glory be to God! Am I the only person on Earth who actually grasps the magnitude of the danger and is willing to act on it?

     I shan’t succumb to the temptation to go on a major tirade. I have other things to do, and besides, you’ve heard me rant about this before. But I had to get this out before it festered. It’s become too serious to let it pass unmarked. I’ll close by restating a little epigram from Baba Ram Dass:

Be Here Now.

     Verbum sat sapienti.


Manu said...

I'm guilty of this sometimes. I don't have a handy curmudgeon nearby to snap me out of it, though. Have to do it myself.

Pascal said...

Maybe you forgot, but the phenomenon predates cell phones. How many times in the distant past were you in -- say a butcher shop -- and watched unhappily as your attendant walked away to answer the telephone? Did you shout "looks like you need this roast more than I do" as you walked out?

Maybe you did. Or maybe you didn't -- because it would be more bother to leave and seek another shop than to wait steaming.

The point being that those short interruptions became part of city life long ago. And because of that tolerance people slipped into the bad habit of responding to the intruding instrument.

Your point has the best chance of being driven home to solutions if the bad habit is put in stocks rather than the poor manners. Yes, that latter is the problem, but as the butcher shop scene demonstrates, we got to that habitual behavior gradually due to becoming inured to accepting Hobson's choices.

If I come up with any diplomatic success in ending such bad manners, I will report back.

Aggie said...

I appreciate your thoughts, and your blog, but when it comes to that, I prefer the immortal words of Bubba Rum Dum: "Beer Now"

Maddog said...

The cell phone boors just desserts: The cell phone as Darwin's most powerful tool Turn off the phone and walk

A man can dream!

Mark Sherman

Wayne said...

There is an Indian bistro in Middleton WI where I used to live.. They had a sign in their lobby,
"No. We DON'T have WiFi. TALK to each other."
Loved that place, and not just for the food.