I am the first to admit that I will need to be dragged kicking and screaming into the technological 21st century. A toddler picked up my antiquated Nokia phone the other day and couldn’t figure out why the screen wouldn’t change when he brushed it. How far beyond redemption am I when a three-year-old thinks I’m a dinosaur? I knew the day would come when I’d find myself harking back to the good old days, reminiscing about how it used to be… I just didn’t think it would come when I was still this side of 50.
Gone are the days when we might have a quiet dinner together, sorting out the world’s problems or catching up on who’s doing what with whom. Now it’s me, you, and your smart phone – ergo me, you, and all your friends. And your friends, constantly interrupting our conversation with e-mails and texts, seem to get more of your attention than I do. Perhaps I should just give in and get a smart phone. Or perhaps I should just be more choosey about who I hang out with.
I have a friend in Ireland who doesn’t have a mobile phone. She doesn’t have a Facebook account. She doesn’t Tweet or Blog or have a private email address. And she seems to get along just fine. She’s a well-adjusted, active member of society. She manages to stay connected and not miss out on parties or events. She’s more current on current affairs than many others I know. She’s always on time because she has no way of letting people know that she’ll be late. And what’s more – she has time to do things. Things like decorating, or picking wild mushrooms, or gardening. And when I have dinner with her, I get her undivided attention. And I like it.
By our very nature, we like attention. We like to be the focus of conversation. We like to be heard. Oscar Wilde reportedly said that the only thing worse than being talked about was not being talked about. We fall in love with those who make us feel like we’re the only other person in the room. We are drawn to those who listen to us, who make us feel that we have something to say that’s worth hearing. We choose to spend our time with those who make us feel special. So why then, when we come into possession of a smart phone do we turn into stupid people – rude, inconsiderate, and downright ignorant at times.
Yes, of course, this was happening ever before the smart phone came into inexistence…to a certain extent. But in the last twelve months, it seems to me that it’s spiralled way out of control. And I am sick of it. Last night I had dinner with a mate of mine who was keeping one eye on me, another on the conversation, and a third on the text conversation he was having with a mate of his. I pointed out how rude he was being. He said that his mate was the sort of mate who needed a quick response. I pointed out that I was sitting right there, had asked him a question, and would like a response, too. He said that I could see him but his mate couldn’t. So therefore, his absent mate deserved more attention that the one at the table (me). For all the attention I got, I may as well have been sitting at home at my kitchen table, with dinner for one and a mirror propped in front of the milk jug to create the illusion of company. At least I’d have had a decent conversation.
I had thought that the Hungarian obsession with mobile phones was a lot more intense than the Irish one, but alas, it’s not so. Both nations seem equally damaged. Dinner in Dublin or dinner in Budapest – the only difference is the bottom line on the bill. Both peoples are addicted to staying in touch with those absent and in danger of alienating those present. And what’s worse is that no-one but me seems to have a problem with this behaviour.
What is wrong with the world? Is it too much to ask of you that you show a little respect for the company you’re keeping? I go to great lengths to stock up on amusing anecdotes. I read voraciously to stay current on what’s happening in the world. I live life to the fullest and am happy to make mistakes so that you can benefit from my experience. My goal as a dinner guest is to provide you with witty repartee, insightful comments, and interesting conversation. The least you could do is switch off your phone and pay attention.
First published in the Budapest Times 20 April 2012
23/4/2012 – And fresh from Australia from Biddy