Excuse Me While I Ignore You

Let’s just pretend. You with me? Let’s imagine that you had me over for supper some summer night. You’ve done the cooking, you’ve poured the wine, you’ve spiffed up the house just for me.  It’s a night to catch up on old times and just have a good old-fashioned chat. Then just as you’re about to pour me my second glass of Mogen David Blackberry (I’m not a terribly refined drinker) I jump up and say, “Sorry, but I have to run. I just looked out your window and someone much more interesting than you just walked by. I would rather go talk to them.”

You don’t have to tell me how you’d react to such an ill-mannered gesture. You’d be mortified, you’d be shocked, and after you sat there consuming the rest of the Mogen David you’d be downright angry.  I wouldn’t blame you for being offended at such loutish behavior and you’d be perfectly within your rights to scratch me off you list of friends forever.

It may surprise you that just such a thing has happened to me twice already today and it occurs perhaps a dozen times a week to many of us. Do we really have such crude friends? Yes Beulah, we do.  You sit down at a restaurant with a friend and she purposely places her cell phone right beside her dinner plate so she won’t miss a message. You sit at a meeting watching half the members reach to check their messages during your conversation. You ride down the road chatting with someone who’s glancing at his or her tweets. Oh wait, you say. That’s not the same! It’s exactly the same thing, baby! How do I say this politely? I can’t. You’re a creep. You’re a jerk. To be a bit more kind, you are sadly mistaken.

Last week I entertained a group of retired ministers and their spouses in a Springfield hotel. Their conference was treating them to a weekend of the state capitol in reward for their years of service to the Lord. They were a remarkably lively crowd and the evening was going quite well. Then I glanced up at the dais and saw their Grand Poobah . . . bishop, rector, mini-Pope or something . . . the guy with the fanciest collar . . . checking his cell phone. This was not a sly glance, but a full-blown reading of something.  I didn’t belong to this denomination so I was free so say what I wished. Besides, I’m getting old and grouchy. I stopped my song in mid-verse and said, “Excuse me, Poobah, but am I singing too loud and disturbing you?” Okay, I didn’t exactly call him Poobah. In fact, I couldn’t actually say what I wanted to call him. A hush fell across the room as every retired eye turned to the man with a collar and a caller. His face turned a bit red and he slipped the phone back into his pocket. Dog-gone it, he was being rude and he hadn’t even tasted Mogen David that night.

And I’ve had it with the “Well, things change and we just have to adapt to them,” mentality. Wrong. Your phone may blink and beep and blather, but good manners do not change.  You may be able to check the weather forecast while you’re talking to me but the simple fact that I am more important than your stupid phone screen has not changed. Because when that changes, sweetheart, we are in deep doo-doo.

I recently spoke to a Grandmother who offered to take her granddaughter and a friend on a five-day expense-paid vacation to New York to celebrate the girl’s graduation from college. Grandma only asked that they leave their cell phones at home. When I last chatted with the lady the girls were still trying to decide whether they could make such a sacrifice.  I wonder if some day when Grandma is no longer with them if they’ll regret this opportunity of a lifetime. Perhaps they can just catch a video of Broadway on YouTube.

Indoor plumbing? Good idea. Saves frigid dashes out the back door. Microwave ovens? I’m all for them, turning my Schwan’s man into Santa Claus. The rotary engine, Dr. Scholls shoe inserts, electric toothbrushes, and Sleep Number mattresses . . . all good ideas, none of which cause people to ignore us.  But we can’t be fooled into thinking that every new technological doo-dad will somehow further the cause of humanity. Both the Edsel and the atomic bomb had a couple of drawbacks.

The average American family pays upwards of $1800 a year for cell phone service. That’s roughly what it takes to keep 15 children from starvation for an entire year, but what the heck? We’ve got to check our messages, right?

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