When I was a kid, telephone etiquette was drummed into me by The Pack Rat and Deep Six. It’s important for anyone to know, of course, but as these two ran a business out of our home, it was essential that any potential customers who called and got either The Brother or I, weren’t put off by our chirrupping voices.
When I got older and started to work at the public swamps (I believe other cities may have called them ‘pools’), telephone customer service was again a major theme. What we were NOT to do, it was emphasized, was ignore the phone for the living, breathing customers in front of us. If the phone was ringing, that was a customer who deserved our full attention. We were told how to politely ask someone to wait while we attended to the phone call, and how to politely ask the person on the phone to hold on for just a second while we dealt with the person standing in front of us.
It was all so simple then.
Nowadays, it’s not an either or situation anymore, of course. One doesn’t often hear of someone asking anyone on an electronic communications device to “wait just a second. I’m going to finish up here with Person A and then I’ll be right back to help you.”
Waiting doesn’t happen anymore. And priority, I’ve noticed, is almost never given to the breathing pulsing person right in front of you.
I remember walking to work in our previous neighbourhood and seeing a collection of teenage refugees from the local high school standing in a loose circle – as one does at that age – with nary a word being spoken. They were all head down, staring at their fingers. Or so it appeared. Of course they were all very busy texting their friends and friends of friends unto the seventh generation. It was when one of the girls gave a sudden hoot and showed a message to another bomber-jacket-skinny-jean-muffin-topped casualty and a third joined in that I realized they were texting each other!!
This was incredible to me. You are all standing together!! Why can’t you talk? What’s wrong with talking?
It has happened so many times since then that it seems hardly remarkable anymore. But it was the invention of this infernal device -
That really put a final nail in the coffin.
The Blackberry is ubiquitous – it is everywhere in Official Ottawa. Taxpayers can take solace in one thing, this is one bit of Canadian technology that is scrupulously, dilligently, maniacally made use of. Political wonks of all shapes, sizes and hierarchies are gunslingers when it comes to this ridiculous item.
Not to get too shriek-y, but as a non-user, the Blackberry has killed conversation. What it means, poppets, is that people who once worked and then went to restaurants and concerts and dinner parties – or even to the movies or bowling with the kids – are now at work, all the time. I’ve been to Christmas parties that looked no different than that gaggle of kids outside the high school except with better jewellery and support hose.
As soon as that thing hums in their pockets or purses, these crackberry addicts dive in and retrieve their techno-nipple and start to tap away like demented telegraph operators. It doesn’t matter if they’re talking to someone – if they’re smack in the middle of a conversation – whatever is crossing the screen at that very moment, whatever message is currently lodged in the black bowels of silicone and wired wizardry, is of gravest importance and simply Must Be Addressed.
Long gone are the days when one finished one conversation before beginning another. And it’s had a deletrious impact on conversation overall. I am not an elegant conversationalist – though I do make the effort – but people with ‘berrys are trying to keep track of three or four conversations at a time and frankly, darlings, they don’t do it very well.
Frankly, darlings, they really kind of suck at it.
So, in the interests of maintaining Peace, Order and Good Government – also bedroom privileges – I am laying out a few guidelines. A few Good Ideas. Something for you to mull over.
- when you are in front of a person, and they want to talk to you, holster your sidearm and give them your full attention. If that’s too hard, put the berry out-of-sight. Give them your time and when they’re done, and you’ve asked to excuse yourself, you can dive after the berry like a dog on a rat. Go for it.
- on social occasions – anywhere after hours, not the office or home or not an official function of any kind – try and leave the blackberry at home. Or in the glove compartment. Or give custody of the damn thing to your long-suffering spouse. Just don’t hold it yourself. If you are one of the, um, two or three people in the world who are absolutely indispensable and must be available at all hours, I suppose you can keep it. But unless your name ryhmes with O Lama! you probably aren’t one of those people.
- DO NOT bring the ‘berry to church! It cannot be saved. Sorry.
- never ever text someone in the same room as you are. Or even on the same floor. Or for that matter, in the same building. That’s just lazy. Seriously? Seriously.
- texting and driving, texting and watching television, texting and talking are all bad combos. You do not multi-task as well as you think you do. The truth hurts, doesn’t it? That’s okay, now we can work on change.
I think that’s a good place to start. But above all poppets, please remember that a living person is more important than what Susie has just posted on Twitter or whatever bit of office gossip you’ve just picked up. Our world talks way too much.
Too bad it so rarely has anything to say.