Lessons in Civility: Being Smart and Polite with Smartphones

This morning on my walk, my friends and I talked about a problem that a lot of us are facing. You are sitting with your family, and all heads are down. Adults and children of every age are texting, tweeting, playing games, facebooking or are otherwise engaged with an electronic device instead of the people they are with.

“I hate it when my kids are checking their e-mails or texting with someone else when I finally get some time to be with them,” I said.

“I know how you feel,” Julie said. “It makes you feel non-existent.”

“I read an article that said kids aren’t learning how to interact with the other people,” Marci said. “Their social skills are non-existent.”

“I think that using your phone has become almost sub-conscious,” Robin said. “I have friends that when they go out to dinner, everyone has to put their phone in the center of the table. The first one who reaches for their phone has to pick up the check.”

We all laughed at that.

“We got a really funny Christmas card this year,” I put in. “It was a picture of our cousin’s family sitting around the dinner table. Everyone was on a phone. The message was: texting you season’s greetings,” I said.

We all laughed again.

“We were just with our niece and nephew who have a seventeen-month-old. The baby had an iPad and could use it,” Marci said.

I shook my head. “That’s amazing. Toddlers have to be a lot smarter than we think. I mean, you have to have some reading skills—at least be able to recognize symbols—to be able to do that.”

“But is it healthy?” Julie asked. “I mean, there’s radiation coming from all this stuff.”

“And it’s an addiction. People spend hours playing games and talking and texting,” Robin said.

“Maybe that’s why productivity is down in the United States. It’s a Communist plot. Maybe all these years there have been sleeper cells planning the demise of America, and one of them invented these devices and the Internet,” I said.

My walking buddies all looked at me as if I were crazy. “It’s the writer in her,” Julie said. “Let’s forgive her.”

We continued on our walk and with the conversation.

“Pretty soon people won’t communicate with each other at all,” Marci said.

“But in some ways, we communicate more,” I said. “If you think about it, we now carry a phone with us where ever we go. And that phone has a camera. So not only are we in constant communication, we take pictures where we never would before. My daughter and daughter-in-law text me photos of the kids almost everyday. Or if we see something interesting we’ll snap a quick shot and text it to each other.”

I sent this photo to my daughter-in-law. We'd been talking about how the men leave just enough Coke or juice in a container so that it can spill all over the refrigerator. She wrote back, "Seriously!" We shared a good laugh in minutes.

“And I keep in touch with my nieces and nephews on Facebook. We don’t live in the same cities and they have such busy lives I wouldn’t normally have been able to do that. But on Facebook I can see what they are doing and make a quick comment,” Robin said. “I think we feel closer to each other that way.”

“And I text with my grandkids all the time. I told my grandsons that when they get a text from me that says: THINKING OF YOU, I really mean, I LOVE YOU. I just don’t want to embarrass them if their friends are reading over their shoulder,” I said.

“So maybe it’s not the electronic devices that are in the wrong—it’s the way people use them,” Julie said. “Like the NRA bumper stick: Guns don’t kill. People do. We just need some rules of how and when to use them.”

Somehow my mind created a picture of an iPhone being blown to smithereens, but I quickly pushed it away.

“What a great idea. We just need Smartphone etiquette guides,” I said.

“Yes! We all jumped in using these great devices without thinking there should be some rules about it,” Robin said.

“It wouldn’t have to be too many rules. Just a few to maintain civility,” Marci said.

By then we’d almost completed our circuit and were ready to go on our separate ways. Again we’d aired a popular topic and had set forth many opinions. Then we’d come up with what was needed.

If only we were in charge of the world, I thought. We could solve anything.

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