Thursday, August 13, 2009

Good Manners, Cell Phones, and Tattoos

If my mother was alive she would add to her age-old adages: “Never put anything in your ear that is smaller than an eggplant—no iPods, no cell phones, and no tattoos.” Say what? Let me explain.

While technology develops at light speed and humans manners at no speed, I find a great black hole between the two. Take Cell phones. These artifacts –-in all kinds of advanced development-— totally dominate our lives today.

Not only are they ubiquitous in day and night, but they have also become a nightmare.
Last week, being in between classes, I decided to enjoy a moment of leisure in our faculty lounge. Here you can find colleagues, who in no time engage you in quiet urbane conversations (sometimes serious discussions), and all in a peaceful, well-mannered setting.

Then along came the cell phone and the urbanity melted away.

With the gadget (cell phone) in their ear, the well-mannered professors show their dark sides: some shout, others growl, many gesticulate and curse, and worst of all, the faculty lounge turns into mayhem, pandemonium, and chaos all at once. An adjunct professor of business who teaches Marketing courses is the worst offender; being a real estate broker in his main occupation he actually sets up his appointments and sales calls from the lounge. One day I had to ask to refrain since he was disturbing the peace and the quiet enjoyment of life. Wow! Besides giving me the knives of a look he cursed under his breath.

So I headed toward the staff-faculty cafeteria where one find kindred souls with whom to chat, swap stories, or maybe engage in low-level-non-vicious gossip. Right in the middle of ordering my lunch, the waitress’s cell phone rings. Of course, she takes a moment to answer. Never mind that I had to listen to her problems about getting rid of her free-loading sister-in-law. I felt sorry for the woman because I learned --by way of her cell phone conversation-- that she was the bread-winner, since her husband had been unemployed for six months and his sister for a year.

As I returned home on the Q32 bus, and once on the 59th Street Bridge, the bus started to move at snail pace: ten minutes per each square foot. As if in a chorus the passengers pulled their phones and started notifying their alleged-loved ones that they would be late due to heavy traffic. After this initial choreographed wave, a second one ensued. Incoming calls started.

One conversation caught my attention; a young man is begging his father to pay the last installment of his tuition bill:
“It’s only seven hundred dollars, dad.”

“I know you gave me the $700 bucks. But I used it for the tattoo you see on my ear-lobe.”

“I agree I should tattoo things on my brain rather than on my ear-lobe, but this tattoo is my soul and it will stay with me forever as long as I have ears.”

“You know I’ll pay you back when I graduate. No sweat, dad--I will.”

“A check is fine. Okay, dad. I promise--no more tattoos. Thanks, man. Love you dad.”

As I debarked from the bus, I turned around to thank the driver, but I changed my mind since the man had the darn gadget plugged in to his left ear.
That same night, Mary Patricia (my wife) and I attended a concert at Carnegie Hall. A nice young man came on the stage and asked the audience to turn off their cell phones. A tsunami of gadgets twittered off—at least until the concert break.

Oh boy--was I wrong!

Ten minutes into the concert my own cell phone went off, lifting me a foot off my seat with embarrassment. I’ve since removed the ring tones on my phone, and I’ve learned to text.

The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:

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