I was in a Dunkin Donuts last Tuesday morning, working my way though some coffee and writing, when an old man came in. Dunkin Donuts is designed for high customer turnover, with bright lights, colors and music designed to caffeinated its customers into the line and out the door with they containers of grease, sugar, salt and starch. Great place to visit , but you wouldn’t want to lives there. So I was a little surprised when the man sat down an t a table across from me and starred todo the same thing I was: futzing around on the internet and occasionally typing out some email or comment. He seemed really happy to be doing this.
A few years ago, we went with some friends to a delicious Indian restaurant we almost oversold them on. While we were enjoying their meal, they wisely gave their 5 year old an iPad with some Pixar feature for him to watch. His attention before the blue glow of the iPad brought silence and calm to our conversations. It was very helpful, if horrifying.
MY wife and I just got back from a dinner at that same restaurant, and saw the proliferation of our friends strategy. Smart phones and tablets were allowing two kids at a table to sit quietly at a table with adults. They were also enabling a married couple to not talk to each other, which was distressing, but none of my business.
The simplest remedy to this would be a “Thanksgiving Mode” on smart phones and tablets, which only allow you to text and email with the people in your immediate vicinity. 10 meters should do it, but 5 meters might encompass the whole of the house.
But this is a stopgap maneuver, meant to preserve the old etiquette in the new times. My dad used to get perplexed and annoyed when I would take a cell phone call while we were at home. It violated the order of just being at home, talking. As a teenager, I discovered the hormonal appeal of taking up the phone and exploring the wall with my feet. I recall the long hours (minutes) fabricating something to write to my grandmother when I was a child, filling in the terrifying space between “Thank you for the” and “Love, Alan”. The Fax Machine, teletype, telephone, morse code, letters, and written language each had their own idiosyncrasies of etiquette. These manners had everything to do with the technology and nothing to do with the courtesies of the erstwhile communication modes of the time.
Disruption is the routine. All to the good.