Monday, November 22, 2010

Because it's rude, that's why!

            Text messaging is the greatest invention since, well, the cellular phone. You can carry on a silent conversation with nearly anyone in the world.  I say nearly because I figure there may be people in Papua, New Guinea who don’t yet have cell service in some of the more remote jungles. So if you have family or friends there, you may not be able to text them. Take heart, though, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before that problem is remedied.
            There are definite advantages to texting over talking on your cell phone. The first is that texting is more private than talking. My teenage son finds this to be a big plus. None of us can hear what he’s saying while he’s texting his girlfriend. To my great disappointment, that cuts down a lot on the kissy-face noises we can embarrass him with while he’s trying to talk to her on the phone. My family did that to me a lot when I was a teenager. Admittedly, it was one of the few ways my parents had to get me off of our one and only phone. You know, the one with the cord. Well, watch Nick at Night and you’re sure to see one.
            I’ve also heard stories about people texting friends and family members during boring meetings at work. That’s because another advantage of texting is that it is a lot quieter than talking. Now just as an example (because you know I would never do such a thing), let’s pretend that I get out my cell phone during a meeting, call my husband and ask him about our plans for the evening, maybe discuss the relative merits of two movies we’d like to see and whether we’re in the mood for Italian or Chinese food. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right - someone is sure to notice after a while. That would probably be a bad career move on my part. However, if I’m texting from my Blackberry (again, this is just a far-fetched example), my boss is going to be impressed that I’m taking such good notes about every little thing he’s droning on, uh, discussing. Good plan, huh?
            There are, of course, disadvantages to texting. The woman in the new little convertible who plowed into the back of my minivan last month – I was completely stopped – found to her chagrin that texting requires too much concentration to perform properly while driving. Her insurance company thought it was a real bummer. You should probably stick with a wireless blue-tooth headset and actual talking if you must use the phone while you’re driving. Your insurance company and the soccer mom in the red Dodge Caravan in front of you will be much happier.
            Since I’m a teacher, I am required by state and county law to inform you that texting during your tenth grade Chemistry final is considered cheating. I know it’s not fair, but that’s how it is. Regardless of what Regis Philbin may tell you on TV, you don’t get to poll the audience or call a friend when you’re unsure of an answer. So unless you’re a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, skip the texting during exams. I hear your outrage, but I don’t make the rules. I only enforce them because I get paid a lavish teacher’s salary to do so. I suggest you take it up with Mr. Philbin.
            And so I come at last to the issue I meant to address when I titled this article. The answer to this question is crucial and has a major impact on society as we know it. Here it is. Is it acceptable to text friends and family members while you are seated at a dining table with others?
            I see some of you nodding – sure it’s OK – and some of you shaking your heads – of course it’s not OK. I’ve taken a considerable amount of time to ponder this question and I have to weigh in on the “not OK” side.
            Last June, my sixteen-year-old son and I took a delightful trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The hotel in which we stayed had a never-ending pool with waterfalls and a swim-up bar.
            The beach was just beyond the pool, and you could swing gently in your hammock and listen to the waves roll in. We visited some caves, the Arecibo radio dish, the Bacardi rum distillery, and shopped in old San Juan. It was heavenly. If you don’t count meals, that is.
            The food was outstanding. I discovered that I love mashed plantains and that Puerto Rico offers culinary delights that I have tasted nowhere else in the world. So what was the problem? My son spent every minute we sat in restaurants texting his girlfriend. I would share my thoughts on the food and scenery, only to realize when my child responded with a “What?” that I had been tuned out. It was OK the first time or so, but toward the end of our seven days in island paradise I found that I had a nearly uncontrollable urge to throw his phone off of our sixth floor balcony into the ocean below.
            Over the course of several days, we chatted about what was obviously only my problem. I started by joking about being ignored. He smiled at my humorous tone. I progressed to politely asking him directly to please put away his phone. He always did, but the minute that phone vibrated, he was gone again. I started to get grumpy when it was time to eat a meal. I needed a solution and I needed it fast. My solution, admittedly not the most elegant, was to hiss at him from across the table, “Turn off that darn phone or I’m going to cut off your service.”
            I finally had his attention.
            “What?” he asked.
            “Stop texting at meals. I’m not kidding.” The people near us were trying to pretend we didn’t exist.
            He responded immediately. “Do you need your asthma inhaler?”
            “No. I – don’t – need – my – inhaler,” I gasped.
            “Are you sure? You look a little…”
            I took a deep breath. “Yes, I am sure. I want you to stop ignoring me by texting while we’re at the table.”
            “I’m not ignoring you.” I could hear the vibrating noise emanating from his pocket.
            “Yes, you are, and I – have – had – enough of being ignored!”
            “Well, all you had to do was ask,” he answered reasonably, pulling the phone out and reading his message. “I don’t see what the big problem is, though.”
            “I want you to stop texting at the table because it’s rude, that’s why!”
            “It’s rude?” It was as if he had never heard the word before. Why didn’t this young man’s mother teach him some manners? Uh…never mind.
            He started to answer that latest text. I waved my fork under his nose.
            I just stared at him, nostrils flaring.
            He looked down at his phone. “Oh. You’re serious.”
            “OMG,” I answered.
            He smiled charmingly. “No problem, mom.” He shoved the phone back into his pocket. “What do you want to talk about?”
            “Um,” I responded cleverly. Now that I had his full attention, I couldn’t remember why I’d wanted it. I motioned for the waiter to refill my mojito glass.
            “That looks good,” my son started, motioning to my glass filled with lime juice, mint, and Bacardi’s best rum distilled right there on the island. “Can I try some?”
            “No, you’re only sixteen. Sorry.”
            He nodded understandingly.
            The silence stretched out into infinity, broken only by the vibration of an unanswered cell phone.
            “You’d better answer that,” I said finally.
            “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
            I shrugged. Whatever.


  1. Incessant texting when the teen and I are the only ones in the car also gets my goat. Our rule is that you then get to read the texts out loud to your mother. Or at least, make up something interesting to tell her ;)

  2. OMG! We HAVE to go to Puerto Rico! I'll even pay my 1/2 of the trip...text me w/ the details
    Love, Gloria