(Guest blogger: The Grumpy Academic)
If you’re anything like me, you pretty much hate all new gadgets. But chances are you’re nothing like me, and to your shame you’ve got a huge collection of old dusty pods, pads, palms, and PDAs in a box under your bed. You have no use for them, just as I have no use for you.
Anyway, when I was just a grumpy grad student back in the last century…must have been the year we finally got serious about climate change, say 1992…I was teaching yet another deadly class in what was known as “essay writing for people who hate writing,” i.e., freshmen comp, and some kid pulls a walkie-talkie out of his knapsack and starts talking during my lecture. Now there were two things wrong with this scenario: one, you NEVER lecture on writing, that’s a means/end contradiction; and, two, unless you’re calling in an artillery strike during a zombie apocalypse, no one, I mean no one, uses walkie-talkies in my class. Not. On. My. Watch. Heck, my walkie-talkie policy was right on the syllabus.
Well, after some necessary roughness, some back and forth during which time the student got the lowdown on CCC (Classroom Comportment and Civility) and I learned what exactly that walkie-talkie really was, well, as you can guess, it turned out this incident was merely the first blow in what would be a major source of my grumpiness for the next 20 years. A Cell Phone Intrusion. We had gone through the looking glass, people, and what we found there was Chatty Cathy, and she weren’t real purty.
We all lived through that era, didn’t we? The time when you could be in the middle of a nice meal with your wife in a fancy restaurant, talking smack about the latest Hendrick Hertzberg column in the New Yorker–she says didn’t he skewer Bush the Younger? and you’re saying, Righteously, and she says, Whassup with Laura? she’s a librarian, doggonit, and you, Indubitably, honey–and then, out of the lambent night, like the breaking of the seven seals, guy at the table behind you screams, “YELLO? OH HEY SCHMIDTY! YO-YO-YO! I’M AT SARDO’S. THE VEAL. F*****G TERRIBLE! WHEN’S OUR TEE TIME!.
Or you’re in the supermarket, quietly minding your own grocery business like a good consumer, inspecting yogurt labels for best before dates, sniffing cantaloupes, and some bustling renaissance gal parks herself and cart in front of the Danon and proceeds to get into a heavy cell discussion with her dispatcher: “Yeah, I’m in the dairy aisle. Do we need any cream? I’m right there. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Half and half or table? Or 5%? Or whole milk? Or Coffee Mate? They’ve got that new Amaretto flavour you like. Or buttermilk? Or goat milk? Or ant milk? Or milk of magnesia? Or the milk of human kindness? Or arsenic? I like that. Uh-huh. We might want some sour cream for the potatoes. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Oh, you’re definitely going to do ’em on the barbecue, hon. Remember how they were so good like that on the hibachi in Oahu? With Tim and Jerry-Lou? Remember how they fell into that tar pit? How we left them there and got back in time for happy hour? Uh-huh. No, why would would I make a grocery list? Why would I do that when I can phone you here in public and make a vast, inane spectacle and allow the rest of these plebes to get in on this great display of exquisite taste that I’m putting out here? Uh-huh? You say I could be more discreet that way and not annoy the hell out of all sane people who are needless to say totally uninterested in what we shovel into our pie holes not to mention the grey waste spaces that form our thoughts and feelings? Well, let me get back to you on that, I’ve got another call.”
So we suffered through that era (ok, we’re still in it), but maybe some kind of protocol had taken hold, thought I, because at least there weren’t so many ring tones going off like micro strokes in my classrooms and head. But then I noticed another tectonic shift, and it was worse, and it was unstoppable, the Pacific Plate of sumbitch technologies.
Inconsequential, addictive communication has a name, friends: TXT MSG.