The Paper Smartphone

Everything old is new again.


Quote of the day:

What a strange practice it is, when you think of it, that a man should sit down to his breakfast table and, instead of conversing with his wife, and children, hold before his face a sort of screen on which is inscribed a world-wide gossip!

That isn't a modern scold denouncing smartphones; it's the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley writing about newspapers in 1909. (And not, for the most part, in a scolding way: Cooley went on to reply to the critics who found newspapers vulgar, asking them if the papers were "any more vulgar than the older kind of gossip? No doubt it seems worse for venturing to share with literature the use of the printed word.")

His breakfast-table comment reminds me of a tweet that was making the rounds a couple years ago:

[Hat tip for the Cooley quote: the Berkeley sociologist Claude S. Fischer, in The Boston Review, doing an able job of replying to some of today's smartphone scolds.]

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  1. “What a strange practice it is, when you think of it, that a man should sit down to his breakfast table and, instead of conversing with his wife, and children, hold before his face a sort of screen on which is inscribed a world-wide gossip!”

    I’ve heard that when most marriages end, it’s because of money or sex, but too much communication can be a real problem for a relationship, too.

    And I know it’s supposed to be a warning sign if they stop telling you “how their day went”, but, Jesus, after you’ve gotten the hour long play-by-play the night before about how so and so gave her a dirty look, how much is there really to say in the morning?

    No doubt she’ll think of something, but subjecting average guys to female small talk in the morning should be against the Geneva conventions.

    1. Female small talk is the price of sex.

      1. That’s no excuse to double charge.

      2. In the evening. In the evening.

        Small talk in the morning is whipping a dead horse.

        1. You got me thinking of that pistachio commercial again.

    2. because guy small talk is so much better

      1. I assume by “guy small talk” you mean drinking beer. And yeah, it’s pretty damn good.

        1. Beer is great, but no that’s not what I mean and you know it!

      2. I have to give my husband some credit though, at least he doesn’t talk about sports. I’d rather hear about guns or obscure military history trivia than sports.

      3. You know what’s more annoying than female small talk in the morning? Lemme tell you…

          1. That is what Stalin was saying on 22 June 1941.

    3. A little sexist stereotyping there. My husband is the one who gives the detailed play-by-play of how the day went. My response to the question is “ok”.

      It isn’t a male/female thing it’s an introvert/extrovert thing. Statistically women are more likely to be extroverted is all.

      Don’t even get me started on how my extrovert son can spend three hours explaining how a game he likes to play works….

  2. Funny and true – except people generally didn’t read the paper while walking, driving, and every moment possible.

    1. It’s one thing to read your paper/smartphone at the breakfast table or on a train full of strangers. When you see people out with their friends or even on dates whose eyes never leave their phone, it’s a little ridiculous.

      1. I don’t get that either. If I didn’t want to talk to my friend or partner I’d eat alone

      2. I don’t even get walking and talking. What is so goddamn important that you have to share your half of a conversation with everyone around you? I actually thought that people would come to their senses once the novelty wore off but boy was I wrong.

      3. YES – this is one of my pet peeves. Only look at your phone when at a restaurant if you are by yourself people!

        Also, no child over the age of 5 should be given a screen to keep them distracted when eating out with family – it just teaches bad manners.

    2. Yeah, you generally didn’t see people reading the paper at ball games, either.

      1. You have obviously never been a Colorado Rockies season ticket holder.

        1. Yeah, whatever’s on that screen is bound to be far more interesting and a lot less depressing than what’s happening on the field.

      2. I’ve seen people reading newspapers at ballgames. I’m old enough to remember newspaper boxes inside Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park. Granted, these were usually day games so the light is good, night game lighting is probably not so good for reading from paper. But I never thought it that odd, it’s supposed to be a pleasant afternoon at the park after all.

        1. I’ve never seen it at Yankee Stadium, and I’ve been going since the 1970s.

      3. That’s what radios are for…

  3. Okay, I’ll take up a semi-scold position: Pre-smart phone, printed material didn’t create an autonomous bubble the way smart phones seem to. Newspapers were read during relatively appropriate time-killing periods (per the 1909 quote: talking to the wife and kids at breakfast sucks). People didn’t read newspapers sitting at green lights, weaving slowly through hallways blocking foot traffic, etc.

    1. Or, what Drake just said.

    2. People didn’t read newspapers sitting at green lights, weaving slowly through hallways blocking foot traffic, etc.

      Actually, people sometimes did read newspapers while walking, with similarly annoying results. (I say this as someone who was sometimes guilty of it myself.) But I agree about drivers; they of course shouldn’t be reading anything but street signs.

      1. Jesse beat me to it. I have seen people walking and reading books in DC many times. Yes, it is mildly annoying.

        Having 45 minutes commutes for the past 20 years, I have seen people commit all sorts of acts that have nothing to do with phones, in traffic: eating, shaving, applying makeup, reading books, reading magazines, reading handwritten directions, yelling at the kids, rubbernecking at shiny lights, and in one instance, looking at a porno mag. I know of women who have told me about masturbating while driving. Not sure about men, but it would surprise me if none did.

        People are idiots. News at 11.

        1. Add watching movies on DVD players to the list. Yes, while driving.

      2. Some old architect, perhaps Gaudi, was killed walking into traffic while reading.

        1. Jerry Rubin was killed walking into traffic too. Doubt he was reading.

    3. What if I want an autonomous bubble and have no wish to interact with strangers? It annoys me to know end when people want to strike up a conversation in the elevator even when I have headphones in.

      1. This. If I wanted to talk to you, I would.

      2. It’s a natural reaction to a crowded world. Chinese walls for the non-Chinese, portable, educational, enlightening. What’s not to like?

        People who complain about other people doing anything the complainer doesn’t understand is just the precursor to nannyism. At least if the complainer understand the subject, there may be some logic to it, but without understanding, it is just whining and I-know-how-to-run-your-life.

      3. Fun fact: It annoys me when I see people with headphones.

      4. This. I find it irritating that one of the most liberating developments in my life is so disparaged as a social problem. Somehow society is decaying because I want to read my email instead of listening to some random person complain about some random thing?

        1. Be part of the collective solution, thom. Don’t you want to be part of the solution?

  4. At least with smartphones all you get is cancer. Broadsheets used to get ink all over your fingers.

    1. Interesting that nowadays “santizer” stations are all over the place to wipe your hands. That would have been perfect in the newspaper days for cleaning one’s hands, now the sanitizers only serve the OCD germophobes.

  5. Newspapers can’t constantly ding at you or ping you, or allow your friends and family and workmates to do so.

    That’s how you know IT’S FROM THE DEPTHS OF HELL AND SATAN’S ANUS!!!

  6. Brian’s date: What are you doing on that smartphone of yours? Ignoring me?

    Brian: You said you wanted to go to a show, and I’m getting the tickets.

    Brian’s date: Oh.

    Brian’s date: So, now what are you doing? Texting your friends?
    Brian: I’m checking the traffic between here and the show so that we can get there on time, but without having to leave too damn early.
    Brian’s date: Oh, well, OK.

    Brian’s date: So, now what are you doing on your damn smartphone?
    Brian: I’m looking at porn, because it’s a lot more pleasant than talking to you right now.

  7. Hell, even without their gadgets or papers, every idiot in America has decided to make turns around left corners like F1 drivers. I am talking about as they walk!

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