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Thursday, March 07, 2013

Alone in the Crowd

There is a lot of blabber about the use of personal devices and their effect on the ways in which we interact or communicate. Have they killed the art of conversation or have they enhanced our ability to stay connected with one another? Have they caused permanent damage to good manners or should we be adaptive and realize that there is a new code of social conduct in place? Big questions.

I think perhaps the answer is that smart phones and lap tops have done some damage to conversation. And I believe that in certain situations we should indeed turn the damned things off and just talk to one another. By the same token, there are some new rules and I think that since the only thing which should remain constant is change, then a little evolution on our part, (our meaning those of us that did not grow up with smart phones and the internet) is not amiss.

On two different occasions I have been accosted at my favorite watering hole by a patron who felt the need to make a rude comment about my using my phone at the bar. Both people made a case that a pub or bar was a place designed for socializing and that if he owned the bar, all phones would be checked at the door. Good luck with that buddy.

I completely disagree that public places such as restaurants and bars are by definition places to socialize. Yes indeed they can be, and if you go to one with the intention of meeting new people, then by all means put your phone away. On the other hand, I am the type who often enjoys being "alone in the crowd." In other words I like the stimulus of being around other people but at the same time I don't necessarily want to be bothered.

I go to my favorite coffee shop to check my email and write my blog entries and read the newspaper or a book. Sometimes after a long day, I want to go out for a drink and play my favorite video games or text with out of town friends and unwind for the day. Does this behavior make me rude or antisocial? Am I required to display my full wit and charm just because I am in a place where people gather with friends? Decidedly not. I have just as much right to privacy in a coffee shop as I do in my home. If I want to invite guests I will, if I don't, I won't.

Times and manners and customs change far more rapidly than they did when I was a twenty something. Technology has greatly enlarged the size of what could be called a community, and thus I believe that we should adapt to the changes and find a happy balance between electronic and face to face communication.

Given that the instant and online world is still relatively new, we might take a little time to find a balance between our virtual and actual realities. But things will be fine in the end, and if things aren't fine, then it's not the end.

I'm having a dinner party this weekend and the phones will be off. Meanwhile, as I sit here in the coffee shop writing this missive, feel free to text me. I am open for business.

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