One of my big goals for this trip is to keep my eyes open for the answers, or at least clues thereto, to the following set of questions:
What is the impact of the Internet, and especially the mobile devices we use to access it, on people around the world?
How does the impact differ from one place to another?
How is it the same?
What are some of the problems tech is creating?
What are some of the benefits it has brought?
This article is the first in an ongoing series (yes, I am committing publicly) where I will share some observations in an attempt to nibble at the answers to these questions. I'm cross-posting these articles on our travel blog (rae-grant.com) and my long ignored consulting blog (theartofwork.com). Please follow whichever of those is most aligned to your interest (or not - "no worries" as the Aussies say).
So, with that preamble, I'm going to start with a problem:
As we travel around the world, I am struck by new forms of a blight that I had previously noticed in the States - that of "digital rudeness". "Digital rudeness" is a term that I am coining (or appropriating if I heard it somewhere else and just don't remember) to cover anything that involves negatively impacting the real world experiences of others in order to consume or project into the digital world usually experienced through a 4 to 7 inch diagonal black rectangle.
This idea really struck home for me when we went to see the "Circus" show in Siem Reap, Cambodia. As soon as the show started, the person in front of me pulled out their phone, held it above their head (ie in front of MY face) and proceeded to video non-stop for 15 minutes.
I practiced my Zen (see my article about losing weight) and looked for ways to find this interesting, rather than infuriating. That was challenging. In looking for more charitable ways to interpret this person's actions other than my first theory ("what an a**h**e"), the best I could come up with was obliviousness. This person honestly is not thinking at all about the cost to real world experiences around them (blocking the view of those behind them, drawing the attention of everyone around due to the brightness of the screen) and is instead thinking about either watching this later (which no one ever does) or sharing this to InstaBook, SnapaGram, FaceChat or something else, so that people who aren't here can also enjoy thinking about, but never actually watching, this video.
I tried on one other idea - maybe the performance actually looks better through the phone - but discarded that after trying a quick glance at the thoughtfully provided phone in front of my face.
Digital rudeness #1 - Capturing at the expense of experiencing.
The next form of rudeness I've seen is particularly distressing as it is being practiced by parents - who are supposed to be modelling. I mean, I really don't expect a four year old to know when they are being too loud around people who can't get away (in a plane, train, bus, etc). But, I do expect parents to at least modulate this behavior, and begin the endless process of teaching kids to think about those around them. (This process usually yields success by about age 30). But, these parents I've been seeing - of all nationalities, ages and races - get their kid to be quiet by giving them a tablet with a game or a movie (inevitably Frozen) WITHOUT HEADPHONES! The sound is loud enough to be disturbing across a couple of rows of seats or an aisle. The parents in question are also usually so engrossed in their own devices or following along with the soundtrack to which we are being subjected to ever glance around and notice the stares of disbelief and disapproval being clearly projected toward them. I have seen this on roughly half of the flights we have taken (lots of flights), and only witnessed one flight attendant take any action.
Digital rudeness #2 - Imposing volume in close quarters.
This isn't limited to parents. We were in the subway in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, when an older lady (Chinese tourist, we believe) pulled out her phone and started to watch a video of some kind, at a high enough volume that we were disturbed from the seats on the other side of the train. Her travelling companion said something to her several times (which I may have just projected as "please turn that down") to which she just grunted. Although he glanced in our direction and offered an apologetic smile, she persisted.
The next form is perhaps just a subset of the same category as #2, but I'm promoting it to its own headline because it is so obnoxious. In this age of open office spaces, declining public squares, and every more dense urban environments, there is really only one place where one can retreat for some quiet when not at home.
Digital rudeness #3 - Watching or listening at volume in a public bathroom stall. (Need I say more?)
Continuing a trend, the next rudeness form is also really a proper subset of #3, but to me is clearly so much more pernicious that it deserves a place on the marquis with equal billing.
Digital rudeness #4 - Accepting a phone call, on speaker, in a public bathroom stall. (Please, please, please never do this. Send a text message back.)
OK, let's get off this endless list of subcategories, and back to something truly different.
Digital rudeness #5 - Selfishies
Selfies are pretty bad to begin with. What started as a nice feature - the ability to take a picture and include oneself - has become an international narcissist obsession. When we were in Bali, we saw several ads for "Instagram Tours" which included specific spots at the newly re-monikered "Tomb Raider" temple where the guide would show you the perfect spot and angle to take your selfie. You could exactly imitate the selfie tour posts of influencers who had come before. Yecch.
But, what turns a "selfie" into a "selfishie" is when getting the selfie comes at the expense of actually being in the place for those around you. This can happen in any number of ways:
Roadwork selfishies on the bridge, where there is no way to walk past
Obstruction selfishies in front of the view that other people are trying to see
Endless selfishies with every imaginable combination of people in a large group ("Now one with just me and Auntie", "Now one with Auntie, me and the monkey - can someone get the monkey to come back?", "Now one where we all take off our hats"...)
"Funny" selfishies imitating the face of the Buddha, in front of the Buddha...in front of offended Buddhists
Stuck stick selfishies (my personal pet peeve) where the offender blocks passage while working to debug their inoperative selfie stick, never thinking to ask any of the disaccomodated to simply take the picture for her (sorry, but it is disproportianately "her") using what is, after all, the better quality camera.
Cameras are really meant to take pictures of something we are looking at, not for looking at ourselves. Please get a mirror, and leave the self-obsession at home.
Digital rudeness #6 - Phone Zombies
Everywhere we go, we see people, both tourists and locals, sucked in by the importance gravity well of the universal gadget to the extent that they become, effectively, zombies.
They amble slowly on busy sidewalks.
They bump into phone poles, kiosks, other people, other Zombies.
Any such insistence by the real world on inserting itself into their awareness is usually met by beffudlement, a grunted mild apology, and a furtive return to the object of their obsession. And let's not get started on drivers, including professional drivers. We have seen taxi drivers actually watching video on their phone while picking up fares. Yikes.
So that is a starting list of forms of digital rudeness, I'm sure there will be others.
My apologies for the venting. I'll try to mollify things a bit by admitting that I have, undoubtedly, exhibited many of these behaviors myself when at a moment of weakness. Indeed, the mobile device is so loaded with digital crack cocaine that any level of fatigue, hunger or annoyance can cause us to drop our guard, and reach for the controlled world within that small box. I try not to do this, and work to forgive myself when I fail. Please join me.