I'm not just talking about lighting up a movie theater with an iPhone to send text messages or yelling into a cell phone in public. But since when did it become acceptable for technological interaction to supersede in-person communication?
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.
We are the center of our own universe now, and the world revolves around us. Time magazine even said so a couple of years ago when it made "You" its "Person of the Year." It's no coincidence that the cover featured a giant computer. Never has a narcissist had a better friend.
Since then, many among us have taken that honor and run with it. Not in any physical sense—that would require effort—but in the arena where the most untalented, fattest slob can outrun Usain Bolt or out-golf Tiger Woods using only his thumbs. This is where we can all shine.
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.
To many people, it doesn't matter much who calls or what they want. What matters is that the call reflects our existence back upon us. They wanted us, and that is an emergency. Because we won't feel truly wanted again until the next email, text or call. Our wants. Our needs. Our relentless Twitter stream of banal ramblings. We use our Facebook "fan pages" for the same purpose. Yes, we may have "friends" on Facebook, but some don't feel truly valued until they have successfully harassed those friends 10 times daily into becoming acknowledged admirers.
The term friend has been linguistically inflated through social media to the point of having almost no value. An acquaintance of mine made a Facebook friend of a murder suspect until he was notified of his misstep. Another told me he ended up on a stranger's resume as a personal reference because he had added the person indiscriminately as a Facebook friend. Add, add, add . . . 5,000 friends! Maxed out! Look what a popular guy I am! And guess what? If you died tomorrow, I'm fairly certain that your family could still feed all your funeral attendees with a couple of sandwich trays.
When I set up a meeting with someone, they're the only person in the room. My friends are few and dear. I refuse to sign anything "xoxo" or "love" unless I mean it.
Too many people seem to be grasping for ways to connect with others while rarely actually connecting in a way that has true value or significance. What so many people end up with is something that looks like a connection from the outside as they text each other a million times a day, or sign notes with "much love." Sadly, that's the new standard of personal value in this technological era.