A man yaks on the cell phone. Another ignores his dinner companion in favour of his blackberry. Yet another pulls out a digital camera and starts barking orders, only to shatter a friendship because of a tag on an ugly photograph. This is the modern world.
And, if you think it’s bad now, just wait until the Internet completely normalizes both pornography and exhibitionism. That will be an interesting subway ride.
But hope is not lost. Though it may seem that micro-gadgetry has rendered etiquette obsolete, it is simply forcing a new and better one to emerge. An etiquette less based upon long-dead social norms and more upon first principles. In today’s world, traditions are fashions and fashions are dead before becoming traditional. We must concern ourselves with style.
Above all, manners are based upon privacy. This is why one does not, when returning to the dinner table, announce what they have just performed in the toilet. Though we have always had the capacity to do so, we have deemed such behaviour indelicate. We keep some things to ourselves. Things that may hurt, disgust or cause discomfort to the people around us.
But the general thrust of technology is publicity. Without thinking too deeply about it, most of us have become multimedia, broadcasting empires. In the palm of our hand, we hold the ability to communicate through voice, image and text. We can share everything.
We always could share more than we should. Manners is, primarily, knowing the difference between what you can and what you should do. Technology is an ability, not a licence.
Most of the people around you are strangers. They do not care to hear your business. Even in a public washroom, one closes the door when they defecate. Although we examine our own feces before flushing and rejoice in its odour, we feel no compulsion to show it off. The same simple rule applies to the use of the telephone. I’m not saying that you talk a lot of shit but …
Well, you talk a lot of shit.
Texting is, of course, a quiet alternative and it would take a rare breed of stranger to take offence. It is the urinal of communications technology. An acceptable public tool but still not a social one. Should you ignore your friends who are physically present, you are pissing on shoes.
The principle here is less one of invading space —though it is that- than it is a hierarchy of scarcity. The person whose company was the most difficult to secure is always the most valuable. Should one travel miles through the snow by donkey to have dinner with your family, their comfort is more important than the man who lives in the basement.
Almost without exception, the person you are texting is expending less effort to speak to you than the person sitting across your table. By ignoring your actual guest, you send a clear message. Perhaps not the one you meant to and not to the person you intended to. You are saying: ‘Not only are you less important than the person I am texting but you —and all your effort combined— is less important.’ The offence magnifies.
These days, the people who bother to actually meet with you should be treated as the guest of honour. And because they are such a valued guest, you probably want to take their photograph. Although it steals our soul, we are getting used to it. Taking a picture is most likely fine.
What is not fine is channelling Stanley Kubrick. Just because you’re holding a camera does not make you a boss. No matter how big that camera may be. Shouting orders, telling people how and where to stand while doing a thousand takes is beyond annoying.
Models, extras and actors are talking props. The rest of us have better things to do.
Once you have gained their image/soul, you now have the ability to distribute it to your friends, their friends and all of the people who pass as friends on social networking sites. This requires a degree of sensitivity and common sense.
While it may have been quite amusing to see your friend insert a whiskey bottle into themselves, the picture may not seem so the next day. Chances are, they’re making a funny face. People are quite sensitive about their faces. What may look like a lovable wart to you, may be a source of lifelong neurosis to them. Adding a comment like: “Wart’s Up?” is just inviting trouble.
Furthermore, most people have a range of competing identities. Their friends at the bank might be unaware of what they do at the club. With the rare and awful exception of birthday parties, they never even want these groups of friends to meet. Such events are a minefield of opposing expectations that bring ones different personas into conflict.
Don’t be the bomb that blows their cover.
Violating your own privacy is usually ill-mannered but violating another person’s is also an assault upon their autonomy. As bad as it may be for you to leave the bathroom door open, it is worse yet to open it while someone else occupies the toilet. By accident or by purpose, it is rude. One should always knock first. The same applies to shared photographs.
These simple principles of etiquette may not change the behaviour of the people around you but their selective application will arm you with a sense of smug and baseless superiority. And that is, perhaps, the most important function of both manners and technology.
Growing up in the 80s, there were only two types of love song. The creepy I’m-so-in-love-with-you-you’re-everything-I’ll-ever-need-lemme-lock-you-in-a-cage-and-smother-you. And the alternate It-didn’t-work-out-oh-how-I’ll-miss-you-goodbye-but-you’re-my-ONE-forever. And of the two types, almost all of them were tacky. But that’s another discussion, altogether.
Those songs, along with fairy tale romances ruined my view of love. Took years to finally realize the loves we write stories about, usually only spring forth from fictional loves in the first place. No, most love, amounts to heartache. That said, we’re halfway to my point. The other end of the spectrum is hardly ever represented. The It-was-supposed-to-be-better-than-this-I-was-promised-rocket-pack-explody-love diddies. The You-cheated-so-Imma-fucking-kill-you songs. C’mon, you’ve felt that urge, and you know it. No one writes those anymore. At least not within the mainstream. Sure, Nick Cave and a few other modern murder balladiers do (PJ Harvey's RID OF ME is chock full o’ tense-love songs), but can you name 3 or 4? Why are we so short-changed on selection here?
My current fave, although not current, is Blind Willie McTell's 'A to Z Blues'. Strange, that love and honesty are rarely paired when we discuss, in art or other areas, how we really feel. I should probably note here that although I’ll admit I feel said unsavory urges, I’ve never gone farther than *feeling* them. So far as any of you will ever know.
Others faves of the moment:
St Vincent: BANG BANG
Suggestions folks? Others out there? Enlighten me?
Over the last several weeks, Melbournites have watched in sweaty horror as public transport facilities, utilities and traffic infrastructure collapsed under temperatures in excess of forty degrees celcius.
By day three, I was convinced that the apocolypse was upon us. The air was filled with the whining cocophony of a hundred car alarms, traffic lights in the area had ceased to function and water geysers (well, a singular geyser) were/was shooting twenty feet into the air.
To use a metaphor: The shit is hitting the fan…only the fan isn’t working because the transformers have frakking exploded and the faucet is drawing dust. So get used to the smell, because you’re going to be wearing that lovely eau de merde until your local water supply authority gets back to you in seven to ten working days.
Now, I’m not looking to do an Al Gore…but between robot apocolypses, zombie outbreaks and the ever present threat of the Canadian Military - global warming is gearing up. This is not a suprise. Global warming is no more of a ninja than Aretha Franklin skipping about in a frakking pink leotard. So tell me, where’s the foresight?
It’d be somewhere under the profit and loss reports.
Privatization over the last fifty years has resulted in a blatant neglect of infrastructure planning and development. Just as there is no profit in making an action figure that is resilient enough to last five minutes in the hands of a five-year-old, the Boomers have apparently rallied together to decide there’s no profit in building a functioning societal infrastructure for their children’s children.
Now, in an Austin Powers-esque standing-in-front-of-a-steam-roller fashion, our generation plays the indiscrimante henchman screaming in anticipation of our squishy fate.
We can continue standing there like gaping idiots. Or we could just step slightly to the left.
Which brings me to today where our robot overlord Kevin Rudd’s released his second economic revitalisation package (affectionately known as ERP II: The Bloodening). Consequent to the US’s Wall Street bailout (an experiment proving that financial bailouts in a Free Market is just as effective as throwing tax payers money into a wishing well and hoping that it all goes away), K. Rudd jumps on the Yes-We-Can wagon, joining hands with Obama in the long overdue admission that capitalism as it turns out, is a fail.
"The time has come, off the back of the current crisis, to proclaim that the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed, that the emperor has no clothes,"
Can I get a ‘hell yeah’?
The capitalist experiment is coming to an end. Now it is up to us to expediate the realisation of a new model.
It starts at home. Instead of letting your friends buy a Simonds behemoth out past Cranbourne, (for non-locals, this would be a designer home out in the scum-burbs) feeding a lust for wealth and encumbrancing yourself under a mortgage for the rest of your meatlife - try something different.