I recently heard a fellow say that old age begins when the world no longer makes sense to you. By that standard, I entered my Golden Years when I was 9.
The remark came as part of a talk about technology, which I’ll admit rules our lives in ways we couldn’t begin to imagine 20, 10 or even 5 years ago. But just because I can’t figure out how to program my new phone doesn’t mean I’m old. It just means I haven’t caught up with the latest unnecessary functions from Android World.
Oh, phones. They are a boon to mankind and a bane to our existence, aren’t they? They allow us to do a zillion things, including staying in touch with one another while simultaneously eroding the bedrock of a civilized society.
It all gets down to manners.
I was raised to understand that a person’s telephone conversation is privileged, and that a polite person leaves the room when someone takes a call. Also, a polite person doesn’t take a call when he or she is engaged in conversation with an actual live human being-type person in the room.
As a kid, I actually found this very confusing: Leave the room when someone’s on the phone, but don’t answer the phone when someone’s in the room? Huh? And that business about phone conversations being privileged? Please. We were on a party line. Anything said on the phone was fair game for the neighbors, and vice versa.
It seemed to me any way you played it, chances are you were going to get into trouble and it was easier just to stay off the phone altogether. Manners are manners; rules are rules, and you followed them if you wanted to survive to adulthood.
Today, telephonic portability has rendered the old rules useless, and what used to be seen as intolerably rude — people feeling free to make and take calls or texts regardless of where they are, who they’re with or what they’re doing — is normal. You don’t even get a chance to be polite.
I, for one, don’t care to hear one side of someone else’s phone conversation, but it happens anyway. Neither do I care to be put on virtual hold while they type a message to someone who, unlike me, is not in the room with them. Let’s face it: Portable phones have undermined the notion of manners.
As usual, I blame my generation, the Baby Boomers. We might have been raised with manners, but that doesn’t mean we’ve passed them along.
We are so weird. We’ll spend hundreds of dollars on eBay trying to recapture our childhoods by buying the toys we lost and the baseball cards our mothers threw away. But when it comes to something from the olden days that could actually be useful — using some manners, not to mention some common sense, where phones are concerned — well, we sort of let that one slide.
I realize I sound a bit cranky, and I suppose that is another way to say old. But I’m not, really. I just believe that our lives could all be improved if we remembered our manners and thought about someone other than ourselves once in a while.
I consider it optimistic. And optimism keeps you young. It even helps you make sense of the world, sometimes. I wish I’d known that when I was 9.
Mike Redmond is an author, journalist, humorist and speaker. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.