think a lot about the ways in which spending so much time online might compromise our relationships with the people we know in real-time. But what about the people we don't know? The larger community of mothers with kids who could use a seat, or strangers carrying trays full of hot coffee?
During some recent travel, I found myself at an airport Dunkin' Donuts looking for a table with Tiny Baby strapped to my chest, Big Boy pulling on my hand, and a flurry of bags swirling around my person. (Husband was in line ordering our breakfasts, also weighed down by the excessive accoutrement that comes with travel with children.) As I scanned the smattering of tables, I noticed a middle-aged couple sitting at table for six. Duffel bags took up two of the seats, a laptop case dominated another part of the table. The woman's coat was draped over another chair.
And both of them were on their cell phones.
I stood for a moment trying to summon a more assertive version of myself. One who would walk over to them and request that they move some of their things so that we could share their table.
But instead I continued to watch them and then looked around at all of the other harried travelers typing away and talking into their phones, and marveled at the way in which our tuning in causes us to tune out the present world - not just the people we love, but also the people we don't even know.
Soon - I like to think through the sheer force of my nonverbal communication - the man ended his call, looked up, and saw me struggling. He stood up, cleared off part of the table, and gestured for me to join them.
He was a gentleman, after all, temporarily rendered less genteel by the metallic device pressed to his ear.
Later in that trip, I was dispatched to Starbucks to pick up hot drinks for my family. After securing my order in one of those cardboard trays, I walked out behind a young woman on her Blackberry. I assumed that she noticed me only one step behind her - incorrectly, as it turned out, as she let the door close right behind her, and right into my tray of drinks, splashing one mocha, one skim latte, and a venti Pike's Place all over me.
And once again I was left to wonder whether our growing infatuation with All Things Button has made us worse citizens. Sure, we might text up a frenzy to send aid to Haiti, but what about the common opportunities for courtesy that we miss out on by paying more attention to our electronic companions than those in front of our faces?
Before I started blogging, I had the most basic cell phone package, wasn't on Facebook, and didn't really understand what Twitter was all about. Now I'm spending my downtime weighing the advantages of the Blackberry vs. the Motorola Droid and have just started to tweet - follow me? I'm still holding out on Facebook, but, with all of these new forms of technology in my life, I have to wonder:
Am I stepping onto the slippery slope to incivility?
Has the Digital Age made you less polite to strangers? Is our new-found connectedness a net gain for society?
Image: Cell Phone by JonJon2k8 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.