Attendance not necessary

Photo by MZ

Let’s get right to the point, shall we?

What? You were talking first? Sorry, but I think what I have to say is far more important.

What happened to manners?

I’m not talking about high-society etiquette and dispute over the proper spoon to use. I’m referring to everyday, common-sense, Golden Rule kind of stuff.

My nickname isn’t Emily Post. I don’t pal around with Judith Martin (but I adore her weekly column on social graces) and often I let slide things that maybe should be addressed. Rather than call out the store clerk who yaks into her cell phone headset while ringing up my order, I just grab my receipt and make a mental note to spend my money elsewhere. There does exist hope amid all the chaos: While scouring the racks at my favorite resale shop, I was pleased to overhear the owner taking to task two of her employees for “excessive texting” on the job. High five to you, woman.

Excuse me, I ‘m talking now. Please put down your phone. I see you over there.

I can trace this slimy little trail of behavior right back to the first cordless phones. When was it? Sometime in the early 1990s? Suddenly everyone was multi-tasking: They were doing their nasty business in the bathroom while being interviewed by a reporter; they blathered on about this bitch and that ho while steering a shopping cart through a grocery store. The sounds of ring tones bleating and chirping out all genres of musical hits during church services, movies, plays and children’s programs grew more commonplace and acceptable.

Next thing you know a new generation is reaching adulthood with this model of behavior as the norm. You cannot  blame parents for all of this. Spread it around to the cell phone companies and cable TV and reality programming.

In a search for common ground on this stuff, I find myself nearly alone in a field. My mother has a cell phone but she only turns it on when she wants to make a call. (Overly polite and from another era.)  At the other end of the spectrum is my daughter, who sleeps with her phone next to her pillow, eats with her phone in her lap and performs household chores with one hand while texting with the other. Sometimes she takes a break to log on to Facebook. (Unable to disconnect, ever.)

Here is a recent conversation I had with my teen, in which I explain how I went to a fine-arts fundraiser concert, at which we were asked to turn off our cell phones before the show, and how no one listened and just kept on texting and surfing the Net on their smart phones all through the show. What the freakin’ hell, people?

She: So? What’s your point?

Me: What do you mean, so? That’s rude. I hope you don’t do that.

She: Mom, it’s not rude to text during a show. Texting is silent.

Me: I don’t know about that. I can hear that annoying tap-tap-tapping from across a room. It’s not subtle. And it is rude to ignore the performer and chat no matter in what form. You think the people on stage can’t see what you are doing?

She: You need to lighten up. You’re the rude one with your stupid phone always ringing and vibrating in your purse. Half the time you can’t even find it and you never answer it. Talk about rude.

I reminded her that I keep my phone on vibrate these days and I return calls as quickly as I can. I’m even trying to respond to texts with something more in-depth than “OK” or “THX.”

She: Whatever.

Me: How is it OK to be in someone’s physical presence, yet ignore them in favor of chatting or texting with whomever is on your phone?

Apparently this is a gray area, one that I have a hard time wrapping my aging gray matter around. So, it’s not rude to ignore the person or performance in front of you as long as you are saying nice things about the performer on Facebook and Twitter and posting pictures from your phone to the Net? Is this how it works?

She: Do you want some kind of award for politeness? I think most people would rather be with someone real than with some prissy woman who’s trying to be perfect all the time.

Am I am pris? Am I not real? God, if she only knew me back in the day. Hah!

Why must I shut off my dumb phone while you tap away on your smart phone? In my one-person quest to uphold lost social graces, am I viewed only as uptight and outdated. Is there any hope?

While I considered whether I was a prissy perfectionist old skool mom, my preschooler interrupted our debate with this directive:

“Shhhh, mom,” she whispered and pointed to a Barbie doll “mom” seated at a miniature desk with computer and phone.”You have to be quiet. She’s working on her computer.”

Great, now I’m a hypocrite as well.