Our digital devolvement

Michelle Singletary
Columnist May 26, 2012

Enough.

I’ve had it with people and their smartphones, iPads, Kindles or whatever who are interrupting my experiences at the movies, during a play or while dining at restaurants. I’m fed up with the loud conversations over cellphones on buses and trains.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.” View Archive

The one plus to my frustration is that I’m saving money. Because I can’t stand to be disrupted by rude people talking, texting and playing games on their devices, I’ve cut back on going out.

I can’t help but think about Verizon’s advertising slogan, “Can you hear me now?”

Yes, we can all hear you, and it’s extremely annoying. And it’s surely going to get worse.

Virgin Atlantic recently announced that passengers flying between New York and London on its new Airbus A330-300 planes can make and receive phone calls while in the air. The airline said that the service is intended for use in exceptional situations and will be limited to six users at any time.

How soon will this “service” be expanded to other airlines like the checked-bag fee, which started with a few carriers and became a done deal for most of the industry? There will be people who will pay the premium price to talk while flying. And to be sure, fellow passengers, with no place to move, will be disturbed. As if flying isn’t frustrating enough.

I don’t go to the movies as often as I would like because I know I’ll have to leave the feature to fetch a manager to tell some patron to shut off his or her cellphone. I refuse to spend my money for a movie that will be ruined by the glare of cellphones being constantly popped open to read and text or even make calls.

It’s jarring to be sitting in a dark theater only to be jolted by a phone with a screen so bright it could be used to land an aircraft. One man’s Bluetooth headpiece kept blinking a bright blue. I tried to ignore it, but every time it flashed, my head would snap in the direction of the light. When I asked the guy to remove the earpiece, he looked irritated. He glared at me when the movie was over.

I love taking the train and typically enjoy the ride. It can be so peaceful, and you don’t have the stress that comes with flying. But if I don’t get a seat in the “quiet car” that Amtrak has designated for those us who want peace, I’m privy to some conversations that should only be conducted in private.

I understand the occasional short conversation to let someone know when to pick you up or that the train is running late, but people are holding long and involved conversations, often about inane stuff. Businessmen are barking orders or, in one case I overheard, holding a conference call. I really don’t want to know your business.

On a recent Amtrak trip, a woman sat next to me and made a call to her friend who, I learned, was afraid she had a sexually transmitted disease. Thankfully, another seat opened up and the woman moved. But I could still hear her describing the test for the disease.

So many nice restaurant meals are interrupted because people are checking their phones or even taking calls at the table while you sit there waiting for them to finish. People could at least have the manners to excuse themselves and take the call in the restaurant’s foyer.

I was at a play and, during an emotional scene, a woman’s phone pierced the silence. She was in the front row and had to dig through her purse to find the device. This after an announcement was made before the play began to check your phones and turn them off.

If you’re not careful, talking and texting on your cellphone might drag you into court. Legal experts are watching a lawsuit filed by a New Jersey couple who are suing a man and his girlfriend who were texting each other when the man swerved and hit the couple as they were riding on a motorcycle.

David and Linda Kubert each lost a leg because of the accident. Kyle Best, who was driving, pleaded guilty to using a handheld device while driving. The Kuberts sued Best and amended their civil lawsuit to add the girlfriend, who wasn’t in the car. The couple believe the girlfriend should also be held liable if she knew Best was driving when she texted him. However, a judge dismissed claims against the girlfriend, ruling that she was not culpable in the crash.

We all need to look at our electronic etiquette. Our desire to stay so connected may cost more than we want. It’s already costing people their peace and quiet.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or singletarym@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

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