A recent survey says there’s a civility crisis in America. Nearly everyone surveyed said it’s uncivil to answer a call when you’re talking or eating with someone in person. Most people blame the problem on the Internet and social media. About a third say it’s Twitter’s fault.
It reminds me of the all the hoopla over hate-speech on Facebook a few months back. The media blamed Facebook. Everyone blamed Facebook. Nobody blamed those who actually posted all the hateful and violent stuff. That’s right, nobody.
Here’s the thing. I don’t care if you’re talking about incivility, hate-speech, bullying, whatever. It isn’t Facebook’s fault, Twitter’s fault, or the Internet's fault. And the gadgets we’re all hopelessly addicted to are certainly not to blame. We are. You and me.
Technology is smart. It’s people who are dumb.
It’s the same thing with any kind of bad behavior. Matches don’t cause forest fires; people do. Guns don’t commit murder; people do. And so on.
It must have been ten years ago but I’ll never forget sitting in an American Airlines lounge at DFW airport. This guy was practically screaming into his phone for a half hour. He was sitting way at the opposite end of the place and, not only could I hear every word, I couldn’t even hear myself think. That’s how loud he was.
The sad thing is we still haven’t learned. Still, on the outside chance that somebody out there is actually paying attention to something other than himself, here are 10 dumb things people do with their smartphones. Or maybe it should be 10 things dumb people do with their smartphones; I’m not sure.
Respond to a call, text, or email during a one-on-one meeting. Years ago, you’d be in your boss’s office when the self-important jerk answered the phone. You’d just sit there, twiddling your thumbs, feeling like a worthless piece of garbage. It was rude then and it’s rude now; I don’t care what kind of phone it is.
Take your smartphone to the bathroom. Everything’s well and good until someone calls and, not thinking, you answer. Even worse, you flush. On speaker. Bad idea.
Follow a recipe while cooking. Here’s a little tip for all you high-tech foodies out there: smartphones with tiny screens and sharp knives don’t go together. Trust me on this one; print the damn recipe.
Check out the CHP traffic app while driving. That’s right folks: the California Highway Patrol has an app for that. It gives you all sorts of detailed reports on accidents that are probably caused by people checking out dumb apps on their phones while stuck in traffic. Ironic, isn’t it?
Act like a Weiner. That’s Anthony Weiner. You know what I’m talking about: the whole sexting thing. How creepy can you get?
Use the ringer – ever. Just humor me for a second and tell me what I’m missing here. I haven’t turned on my phone’s ringer in years. I use the vibrate mode. If you miss the call, so what? You can always get back to them later. What’s the big rush? I’ll tell you what it is. It’s the attention. People love the attention. It makes them feel important, as in “Look at me, I’m a big shot.”
Have a late night video call in your bedroom. No, not that kind of call. I mean a business call, like with folks in Europe or Asia where it’s still daylight. It’s really embarrassing when your wife walks by in her underwear. Also watch what you say when the other end is on speaker. You have no idea who else is listening.
Being online when you’re ”on line.” The other day I was waiting in line at a paint store. This guy in front of me had his eyes and thumbs glued to his phone while the clerk was trying to get him checked out. “That’ll be $94.50 please.” “Can you swipe your card again please?” “Would you confirm your purchase please?” “Could you sign for me please?” The guy had to be prompted every step of the way. Then he left some of his stuff on the counter. What a dope.
Texting while walking. Most people can’t even walk and chew gum at the same time. Forget texting. People are walking into poles, falling off curbs, slamming into sliding glass doors, it’s nuts.
Channel Alec Baldwin. Do you really have to be on the phone when the plane is taking off and landing? Really? You really can’t turn it off for a few minutes? You’re that important? Come on; give me a break. I don’t care if it really impacts the flight controls or not. It’s the rules. Quit whining, thinking you're special, and acting out like a spoiled brat in public. Save it for your family. They have to put up with you; we don’t.
Here’s a bonus for you. The dumbest thing people do with their smartphones is never disconnect. Let me make a prediction. Decades from now we’re all going to be laying in our death beds, bitter and depressed, wondering what the hell we were thinking wasting all that time online. No kidding.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.