Sunday, September 8, 2013

Maybe they should have called them dumbphones

I was listening to a friend tell a story about a recent experience he had had when for some inexplicable reason I pulled out my smartphone and looked at it.

Immediately interrupting his own train of thought, he called me on my behavior.

 “Well, I can see you’re not listening,” he said.

OK, that’s embarrassing.

Actually, I was listening to his story, but pulling out my smartphone to look at something on it – such as the time – has become pretty much of a reflex for me. I don’t realize I’m doing it until someone mentions it.

A few hours later, an online piece posted by the New York Times caught my attention.

“Disruptions: More Connected But More Alone,” said the headline.

The piece, written by Nick Bilton, told of a YouTube video that showed in three minutes or so how our lives have become controlled by the smartphone, which we use to surf the Web, check text and email messages, take pictures and videos, order a cab, check airline flight schedules, and, yes, even use as a phone.

And when we do use it as a phone, we raise our voices in restaurants to levels so loud that patrons sitting 10 tables away know what we need at the grocery store (or some other innocuous detail of our lives).

Bilton’s story’s crux is that we seem to be missing out on life’s simple pleasures – such as face-to-face communication with people – because of the devices that most of us carry. In our quest to take a video of the sunset, we miss the sunset.

Let’s call it “The Plague Of The Smartphone,” which has infected all generations, including my own (despite our advancing ages). Let’s chill on blaming young people.

(Young people will tell you that old people are killing Facebook because, I guess, we’re pretty stupid about it.)

Anyway, I’m not going to throw away my smartphone. It’s too valuable a tool to do that. Mine has apps for GPS travel navigation and golf course yardages and is generally the neatest thing I own. Being able to Google a sports question and instantly obtain the answer is invaluable.

A friend of mine recently admitted that he didn’t have a smartphone and wasn’t planning on getting one. I felt sorry for him because he really doesn’t know what he’s missing.

But, alas, it’s time we come up with commandments for smartphone etiquette and vow to stick with them. I promise to obey them as well (really, I do):

–Thou shall not drive a car and use a smartphone (or any cell phone) at any time unless in an emergency or when utilizing that neat GPS app.

–Thou shall always have your smartphone in “quiet” or “vibrate” mode, especially in public places.

–Thou shall never pull a smartphone out of your pocket or purse while in the middle of a conversation with a live person.

–Thou shall wear a watch, so that looking at a smartphone is never really necessary. (Sigh.)

–Thou shall never take a picture of food served to you at a restaurant and then text the pic to friends or post it on Facebook.

–Thou shall never publicly share a smartphone picture or video of your dog, cat, gerbil or bunny under any circumstances. (I know I will get pushback on this one.)

–Thou shall talk in a normal tone of voice on your smartphone even if the person you’re talking to is in a different part of the country. (Trust me. He can hear you.)

–Thou shall never play with your smartphone in a house of worship under any circumstances. Taking pictures of a bride is permitted as long as proper decorum is observed. In other words, don’t be jumping into the aisle or asking the bride’s father to get out of the way.

–Thou shall not take videos of your kid’s soccer game unless you have enjoyed – sans smartphone – the experience of watching him play on at least five different occasions.

–Thou shall never place a live smartphone in front of you on the table during a meeting unless there is a reasonable explanation, i.e., “I’m waiting to see if I still have a job.”

–Thou shall never fire or discipline an employee via text, email or voicemail. This is a mortal offense if there ever was one and is punishable by death. (OK, I’m kidding. Kind of.)

Dick Farrell writes this column weekly for the Bargain Hunter.

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