Making a phone call takes just too long, and then there’s that thing about having to actually speak to someone. Texting, e-mails and Facebook updates are so much less confrontational. If you want to sidestep a sticky situation, all you have to do is text someone and add a smiley face emoticon.
Good manners are seemingly harder to come by this day and age — something your parents are likely to agree with.
People have little use for idle pleasantries such as an exchange of good mornings or thank yous. It’s understandable. People are trying to squeeze more into each day, and that leaves less time for societal niceties. But instead of being dismissive or downright rude to someone’s face, we are employing another method: avoidance.
A sign of our desire to avoid others can be found in a recent Financial Times story that reported for the first time ever, data traffic has outpaced voice calls on cell phones. The tipping point came last December, it reports, when 140,000 terabytes of data content was handled by mobile carriers. Whatever a terabyte is.
Media watchers aren’t surprised by this societal game changer, as the number of texts, e-mails and videos sent through cyberspace via mobile phones has been skyrocketing. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook make up a large chunk of the dramatic increase as more people use status updates and tweets to let their friends, co-workers and family know what they’re doing. And if you want to let people know where you are, new Web sites like foursquare will allow you to tag your location and beam it to other foursquare-ers of your choosing.
All these modes of communication have a distinct advantage over telephone calls: They’re easier. Making a phone call takes just too long, and then there’s that thing about having to actually speak to someone. Texting, e-mails and Facebook updates are so much less confrontational. If you want to sidestep a sticky situation, all you have to do is text someone and add a smiley face emoticon. But if you actually have to speak to the person you are trying to avoid, it can get real messy.
Sadly, mobile phone users by the millions have been transformed into wimpy wafflers along the way. Why bother making concrete plans anymore? Or break up with a partner face-to-face?
As a New York Times columnist pointed out recently, people just don’t respond to RSVPs like they used to. They don’t want to tie themselves down to a commitment weeks or months away since that leaves far too much time for something better to come along. And the biggest enabler for that kind of self-absorption is the mobile phone, which has turned our social calendars into the ultimate a la carte tray.
As to what can be done, the answer is: not much. All our new media devices have wiped clean the hard work of parents over several generations. It was they who taught us the importance of first impressions, doing unto others and treating social situations like job interviews. But who needs to do that anymore, except maybe those actually going on a job interview? Those who do are dinosaurs, outcasts who would be stranded on the Island of Misfit Toys, if one existed.
Could texting or Facebook lead to the demise of the telephone? Probably not. We still need to conduct business face-to-face and phone-to-phone. And no doubt there will be a resurgence of phone use as we lament the more carefree days of the dial tone. What could happen is that it becomes a niche thing, like the re-emergence of vinyl records or Roseanne Barr.
But there’s probably no holding back the relentless charge of data usage despite the fact that data plans can really jack up the price of a monthly mobile phone bill. Because as fast as data usage is picking up steam, so is the socially acceptable pattern of not dealing with things people don’t want to deal with, and that includes you.
David Rogers is an editor with GateHouse Media based in Beverly, Mass., and is one of the millions transformed into wimpy wafflers by mobile phone use. Any comments? Send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org