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An Englishman In New York: Cellphones Have Made It Fashionable To Be Rude

...Carr noted how a cellphone’s glow attracts human attention, how the constant stream of data disrupts in-depth thinking and how constantly “grooming” one’s Facebook page and other online presences is “a specific kind of narcissism.”...

Librarian Greg Hill subscribes to the view that cellphones (or mobile phones as they are known in the UK) have resulted in rude behaviour.

Today’s political climate makes it appropriate to read up on the Johns Hopkins Civility Project. This organization was founded by P. M. Formi in 1997 to research issues about civility and its apparent decline.

In 2007, Formi released “The Terrible Ten: P. M. Formi’s Top Rudenesses.” “At the top of the list is rudeness involving strangers or co-workers,” Formi said.

“Number one is discrimination in an employment situation, number two is erratic or aggressive driving that endangers others, and number three is taking credit for somebody else’s work. That is a complaint that comes up over and over again … together with treating service providers as inferiors.”

That last one strikes home for librarians sometimes encounter people who are having a bad day and looking for someone to target. The same goes for other government workers, store clerks and service-oriented professions. It comes with the territory, but it’s seldom pleasant.

Usually, the best bet is to follow the biblical advice: “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Sympathy and caring aren’t expensive and go a long way toward soothing. Even if the irate person’s expectations can’t be realized, a little sympathy can make a positive difference.

Since the majority of people using the public library are courteous, summoning empathy usually isn’t difficult. A case in point is Joe Vogler, who was every bit as gentlemanly at the library’s reference desk as he could be gruff on the political stump.

How conscientious are our patrons? This librarian’s heart glowed to read several blog postings in response to Dr. Formi’s Top Ten Rudenesses list complained about “people who write in or otherwise desecrate library books.”

This leads to a month-old New York Times article by David Carr headlined “Keep Your Thumbs Still When I’m Talking to You.” Carr cites cellphone behavior as “one more achievement to the digital revolution: It has made it fashionable to be rude.”

Carr led a panel discussion called “I’m So Productive I Never Get Anything Done” at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in March in Austin, Texas. It “was ostensibly about how answering email and looking after various avatars on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr left little time to do what we actually care about or get paid for.”

Carr noted how a cellphone’s glow attracts human attention, how the constant stream of data disrupts in-depth thinking and how constantly “grooming” one’s Facebook page and other online presences is “a specific kind of narcissism.”

He was struck how the convention’s “conference rooms brimmed with wireless connections, and the people on the dais competed with a screen in almost every seat … everyone walked and talked with one eye, or both, on a little screen. We were adjacent but essentially alone, texting and talking through what should have been a great chance to engage flesh-and-blood human beings.”

Carr said, “the biggest reaction in the session by far came when Anthony De Rosa, a product manager and programmer at Reuters said mobile connectedness has eroded fundamental human courtesies. His words brought sudden and tumultuous applause. It was a notable moment, given that we were sitting amid some of the most digitally devoted people in the hemisphere. Perhaps somewhere along the way to the merger of the online and offline world, we had all stepped across a line without knowing it.”

Nine out of 10 cellphone users at the library are considerate of their surroundings. Perhaps because of their library experiences, they’re more aware of the many wonders surrounding them, for while there’s much to be said for being fully present in the moment and aware of what is going on around you, there also is a time for turning off the world and losing yourself in a good book.

Your public library is an excellent choice in both regards: a civil place to explore the world and a wonderful source of escape from the hurley-burley of existence.

As Roald Dahl, that master of escape, put it, “Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

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