PC 39 Communicating and manners

In the old days there was one telephone in our house. When it rang, someone went to answer it. If it stopped before they got there, it was imagined that the caller would ring back if it was important. Then came the ‘answering machine’ with its funny bleep and pulsating red light to welcome you home …… to a message or two? Some people used this as a filter, deciding whether they wanted to talk to the caller, or not. Now people answer with: “Oh! It’s you. I can’t talk now ……. we just having dinner/about to take the dog out/sleeping!” Well, why did they answer the telephone in the first place …. if it wasn’t convenient? You can always find out who rang, either with your answering machine or by calling some telephone number that will tell you the last number called. Why let the telephone interrupt what you were doing?

When we first started using electronic mail (email) I imagined it was because the sender wanted a quick answer – so a week after sending an email to a chum in KL and having had no response, I sent another, a hastener if you like: “Did you get my email?” “Yes” Martin replied, “but I didn’t think it was urgent.” And to think in the 1930s Short Brothers built flying boats, to ensure that mail was speedily delivered to the ends of the British Empire; it only took two days to get a letter to India.

So I observe this table at a restaurant, someplace, somewhere, sometime – I’m sure you’ll recognise it? A party of chums have come to have supper, to catch up and to renew friendships. As soon as they arrive at the table and have said hello to everyone, they sit down …. and out comes the smart phone or tablet, which is placed down beside their tablemat. It’s become such a habit …….

Sam was on a night out away from his wife and young family. They knew where he was, but he was anxious that he was able to be reached immediately, in case  ….

Suzanne had often had troubles with the babysitter and tonight’s was no exception – she had arrived late and had been in a foul mood. Suzanne had given her her new mobile number and of course her phone had to be in sight in case it rang.

Stephanie was involved in the world of politics and was never off duty. Her tablet was linked to the party’s website in case there was some urgent matter to attend to … and, she admitted secretly to herself, it gave her certain kudos amongst her friends if there was during the evening. Or so she mistakenly thought!

Stuart had split up with his boyfriend, not something he had wanted to happen. Always wanting to be available, just in case Bill called and they could make up. Not that he wanted to be a slave to the ‘I’m always available’ label …. just, well, you know ………

Sonia lived in an anxious world, emotionally touched by global events she inevitably had no control over. So she had a constant ‘news’ feed – flashing information every few minutes … about which she could worry.

Sean was addicted to Facebook. It was completely incomprehensible to him that anyone would not check their messages every 5 minutes. “You never know what’s going on” he would exclaim – in the lives of his 2,034 close friends!

I don’t think I’m a technophobe but will admit, even proudly maybe, that I have never looked at anyone’s Twitter account. At the table, Sara was anxious that her Twitter followers were aware that she had chosen the King Prawns with a salad (“Oh! And go easy on the Mayo” she had told the waiter!). Did she do this in 160 characters? What happens if you go over this limit? Is it not posted?

Sophie was always keen to show her complete understanding of the latest topic, and would secretly access Google on her smart phone under the table to find information, so she could appear up-to-date.

Do you wonder, like me, why anybody like those above go out socially any more? No one seems to talk/chat/discuss/argue with those they have supposedly come to meet. It’s insidious, this perceived need to be constantly available/constantly in touch.

During ‘active service’ in the army, the Regimental Operations Room was manned around the clock; these days we would say “24/7”. It had banks of telephones and radios and duty personnel. Major John Harman was in charge one particular night, on the graveyard watch as it was colloquially known. The duty ended at 0800 and John was anxious that Staff Sergeant Craig would still provide breakfast in the Officers’ Mess, if he was late. At around 0600 he called Craig on the internal telephone number; he heard it ring; at that very moment the ‘hot ops’ ‘phone rang. “Hang on a minute, I’m on the other line” he said …… to himself …. having misdialled!!

Have you inwardly screamed when someone on their mobile asks: “Can you hear me?” at a volume which would negate making the call in the first place? They get so focused on the call they forget that other people can hear their conversation. The other day a woman left the table she was lunching at, to make a confidential call. She stood three feet away from us to make that call, completely oblivious that we could hear her whole conversation; how rude and inconsiderate! Soon, no place will be silent. How lucky Celina and I were to be able to experience complete silence in one of nature’s wildernesses, in the Pantanal. Maybe one of the few places where your heartbeat is the only sound you hear! “What, no mobiles?” “No, no coverage!!”

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

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