Civil Liberties

"I Refuse To Sign Anything 'XOXO' Or 'Love' Unless I Mean It"


The decade's final entry in the venerable "When I was a boy gay meant happy" genre of rants against our coarsening culture comes from an unexpected source: free-spirited and uninhibited media career gal Rachel Marsden, who says texters are ruining all standards of deportment:

This happened to me at a recent meeting. The person rushes in 20 minutes late and proceeds to whip out a BlackBerry and fire off emails. He intermittently put the phone to his ear, without in any way ascertaining the identity of the caller, and said, "I'm in a meeting. I'll call you back." I asked him if he knew who he was brushing off, and he said no—then laughed.

Hilarious, indeed. The silly fool on the other end mistook the interaction for something of value rather than an ego-inflation event…   

In the old days, cowboys would take their guns out of their holster in the saloon and place them on the table in polite company. Conversational breaks involving actual use of that accessory occurred exclusively in the event of a life-and-death situation. So if the person on the other end isn't dying, and you aren't a heart surgeon, then there is no reason for you to be on your BlackBerry or iPhone.

As they say in Marsden's great homeland to our north, eh? Cowboys taking conversation breaks with guns with, um, heart attack victims in need of surgery without Blackberries? Dave Weigel's Twitter feed makes more sense.

I'm a known sympathizer with Marsden's view. I object to the slovenliness and stylistic cluelessness of my countrymen. I like paper; I like silence; I like getting lost and finding my own way back. I don't really understand how all these people with no visible means of support are maintaining fancy gadgets and expensive data plans. I don't stick plugs in my ears unless it's a sex thing. I get Howard Hughes-level germ revulsion when I see a greasy-fingerprinted touchscreen.

But is there really an injury in any of this? These newfangled "cellular" 'phones have the ability to capture the incoming number, so that jerk with the Blackberry actually can call the person back without first wasting 60 seconds validating the caller's feelings.

Back when early adopters were all excited about our Nokia 9000 Communicators (and why isn't anything called "the 9000" anymore? These days everything's called "the Winkle" or "the Badger" or "Friendgrokker"), the level of wireless connectivity was something Philo T. Farnsworth would have laughed at. During the Clinton administration, it could take half a day to turn Hi-8 video footage into a streaming video that would be too herkyjerky for anybody to watch.

One of the few bright points in a decade that has sucked major ass has been how far we've come since those days. Is it surprising that rude and aloof behavior keeps pace with the rate of technological growth? Once everybody had cars nobody took Sunday drives anymore. That was a loss, especially for makers of scarves and goggles. Civil society endured.

That said, validating people's feelings is important. The improved behavior Marsden seeks will come when staying online is less strenuous and more hands-free. I'm already working on the beta version of my latest invention: the anally controlled all-media broadband implant. I call it "the Feuilleton," and it's gonna be the game changer of 2010.

In the meantime, be polite: