A good friend of mine who is intelligent and warm, compassionate and open, who is normally easy to talk to and be around, who sends thank-you cards on time and wouldn't dream of being late to an engagement, came over to my house the other day and asked me what I was up to. As I was answering, she turned her attention to her iPhone and tapped away at whatever caught her attention, while simultaneously nodding, albeit distractedly, to what I was saying.
I stopped talking halfway through my response, and thought about tossing in a curve ball such as, "and an elephant sat on me." She must have detected the silence through the distraction of her technology, because she looked up at me briefly to say, "Uh huh. So, what are you doing tonight?" and turned back to her phone.
This illustration is not unique to her. I'm just using her as an example of an increasingly common, super-annoying trend.
Back in the day, we would never have considered turning away from someone during one conversation and starting a new one with somebody else. Back in the day, we would not picked up a magazine while out to dinner with a friend and started reading. Back in the day, it would not have been OK to ask someone a question, and then start jamming to our Walkmans.
Call me old fashioned, I don't care. I was born in 1972. I remember the advent of the Internet while studying in Madison in 1994, when the only links were "Phone Books" and "International Phone Books," and they didn't really work. In 1996, 15 years ago, I traveled overseas for a year and the only way I could communicate from abroad was by snail mail or by buying a phone card and using a pay phone. I could actually immerse myself in the travel without having to tell someone every single thing I was doing and experiencing.
I realize we cannot stop the hurricane of technology. As it surges, we stand drenched and amazed by the miracles of instant communication across the globe.
It's just that I think we need a new etiquette. We need a new Amy Vanderbilt to sit us down and tell us how to act. Because we are too busy responding, texting, tweeting and Facebooking to even realize what we are teaching our children.
This may simply require a return to the basics: When people are talking to you, listen to them. Be where you are. When you are in a restaurant, put your phone away and be with the people you are with. Share what's on your mind with them, rather than your followers or Facebook friends. Because the people who matter in that moment are the people right in front of you.
If we are unable to draw boundaries around our use of technology, we cannot expect our children to draw their own. We will greet a distracted, increasingly fragmented generation with its attention in a thousand pieces.
Unless you are willing to change your own behavior, you can't be annoyed when a teenager barely turns her head from her phone to say where she is going and when she is coming back. She'll just text you later.