From a NY Times article titled Keep Your Thumbs Still While I’m Talking to You:
Add one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude. [At South by Southwest Interactive] once the badge-decorated horde spilled into the halls or went to the hundreds of parties that mark the ritual, almost everyone walked or talked with one eye, or both, on a little screen. We were adjacent but essentially alone, texting and talking our way through what should have been a great chance to engage flesh-and-blood human beings. The wait in line for panels, badges or food became one more chance to check in digitally instead of an opportunity to meet someone you didn’t know.
Recently I agreed to allow a high school senior who is coming to SMG next fall to sit in on a class. The visit was arranged through our Undergraduate Program Office as part of our recruitment of admitted students. I’ve hosted many such students eager, or mildly curious, to experience a college class. This student asked if his friend, visiting CAS on a similar trip, could attend as well. I said of course. I greeted him by name before class, introduced myself to her, and directed them to seats in the back row. They sat, and then they cuddled. Inappropriate, but not serious, and they separated as class began. Five minutes later I looked in their direction. She was bent over her phone, thumbs flying on the keyboard. I directed to the boy what I intended to be a meaningful look–it’s meaning was “tell your girlfriend to put down the damn phone!”–but my message didn’t register. I continued with class, asking questions to generate discussion, shooting more looks his way. No response. A few minutes later I again looked their way. Now he was bent over his phone, thumbs flying on the keyboard. I stopped talking. I stared at them. Silence. I said “the two of you–stop playing with your phones!” All eyes turned in their direction. They looked up, stored their phones, but did not apologize. They say woodenly for another 15 minutes, then got up and left.
Breathtakingly rude. If only I had the power to revoke admission.
I am aware of my mortality and fragility every time I get on the bike. Road rash–a benign euphamism for what happens when skin meets pavement–and a cracked bone in my thumb are the worst of it for me. I have been lucky. Our recent bike trip was accident-free, with one near-miss in particular. We were approaching Burlington, VT on Route 7, a busy multi-lane state road, preparing to take a left turn and a quieter route. Six of us were on bikes, seeking a clearing in the traffic to move from the far right into the left-hand-turn lane. I was second from the front. I singled for the left turn, then looked back to see if I had room to move over. I saw behind me four bikers in the middle lane, moving further to the left, with traffic slowed to allow them to proceed. Perfect, I thought, and angled left. Just as I started to move Fred, in front of me, yelled “WATCH OUT!” I straightened the bike and looked to my left. There was a car, traveling perhaps at 20 mph, in the spot where I would have been had Fred not shouted the warning. Driving was a woman in her early 20s, her left hand on the wheel and right hand manipulating buttons on a cell phone, at which she stared intently. She had woven through the four bikers behind me and was oblivious to my presence a few feet from her passenger window–and nearly on her front bumper. I suggested a solo activity she might enjoy amid the chorus of yells and exclamations. She responded to the situation with a flip of her middle finger–I can’t recall whether it was the driving or cell phone hand–and drove on.
It’s a dog-bites-man tale, saying that air travel has become a horrible experience. Still, it could be worse. If Jean-Paul Sartre wrote No Exit today he’d set it on a crowded passenger jet (is there any other kind?) in mid-flight, with every passenger talking on a mobile phone. At least for a while that experience will stay in the realm of fiction. The FCC released an order last week deep-sixing use of cell phones in flight.
Next time I fly I’ll remember: this isn’t as bad as it could be.