Friday, 13 April 2012

Manners, mobiles and a double espresso

A coffee shop in Norwich has taken up arms and begun a crusade against what I've long considered the scourge of modern manners - the mobile phone. The Little Red Roaster has a new policy refusing service to anyone who talks on a mobile while placing an order, the BBC reported this week. Good for them, say I.

I find over-reliance on mobile phones both frustrating and disheartening - frustrating because of the rudeness and inconsideration it causes, and disheartening because it shows just how slavish to technology some people have become while they habitually update every tiny detail of their lives to social media.

guide to mobile phone etiquette is a sad thing, a voice crying in the wilderness of the social rules that really should not have to be rules at all because they should be the way a mature, sensible person naturally acts.

Good manners and true classiness are about how you treat people, not about how much money you make or how big your house is or how many designer labels you're wearing. The rules of etiquette and manners are there primarily to show consideration of the people around you and by extension to create a more pleasant and harmonious world. We all know it's impolite to talk with your mouth full because it's unpleasant for your dining companions to see your half-chewed food, and because it impedes the flow of social conversation. It's rude to drop litter because it's a blot on the environment. In the same way it’s rude to use a mobile phone inconsiderately because of the way it makes other people feel.

I've never worked in catering, but I have had many jobs where I have felt unimportant or ignored, and if I was standing behind a counter and the person in front didn’t even have the consideration for me to give me their full attention for the few seconds it would take to order, I'd feel pretty insulted. I may be oversensitive, but whenever I'm in a social situation and someone keeps fiddling with their phone I feel somewhat rejected - as if the person at the other end of the line is who they'd rather be talking to, or maybe that I'm considered second-tier and that my company just doesn’t matter enough to them to hold their attention.

It's my very firm view that a mobile phone has no place on the dinner table unless one is either dining alone, at a working lunch, or when an emergency call is anticipated; in these latter cases the person expecting the call should mention in advance that she may have to take a call and excuse herself when it happens.

I'm not even going to talk about the number of drivers I see talking on their phones or even texting from behind the wheel(!) while I'm walking back from the train station in the evenings because that's not just bad manners, it's stupid, it's dangerous and quite rightly criminal.

A more abstract frustration for me is the use of mobile phones in the cinema. There's an advert showing in cinemas at present in the great Swiftian tradition of using satire to make an ethical point, depicting the use of sniffer dogs and airport style security to prevent people texting during a film. Personally I think that's a splendid idea. Not only does the constant blinking of white phone screens in a packed cinema distract me from the screen and give me a thumping headache, my mind is boggled by the thought that technology has let some people become so co-dependent they can’t go even two hours without being in contact with someone.

On a purely mercenary level, it can cost up to £10 in my local cinema even before popcorn is factored in - I can't understand why anyone would pay that much and then not give their full attention to the film they've paid to see. But then I'm one of those awful people who has to squeeze the value out of everything. I've been known to stay grittily awake, channel hopping through the personal entertainment system of a long haul flight because if I've paid £500 to get to my destination, I'm not going to sleep through the journey. I'm going to watch as many films as I can and drink everything that's offered to me.

Mobile phones are there to facilitate communication, but too often they become a replacement for real contact. That's not just inconsiderate and rude; that's also very sad.

But because it's Friday and I want to prove I'm not a total grump, here's the latest of the Britain's Got Talent auditions to go viral; a de profundis meditation on another type of phone-related anguish, and the cry of the lost soul - "Ah where me keys, ah where me phone?"

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