January 30, 2010

The Inadvertent Rudeness of Technology

Monique Chartier

Bob Kerr writes in yesterday's Providence Journal

The first time I saw a laptop on a bar top was at Local 121 in Providence a few months ago. It was a moment of social breakdown. In a place meant for the soothing embrace of a cocktail, a woman apparently saw no problem, no code violations, in plopping down her slab of technology and hooking up with the universe.

I know some bars where putting a laptop down next to the beer coasters would probably bring the threat of a laptop flying, followed closely by its owner. But Local 121 is a subdued and tasteful place, retaining much of the original elegance from the days when it was the bar of the Dreyfus Hotel. The bartender did not lean over and threaten to bounce the laptop off the wall. The clueless offender was allowed to click away.

The rudely placed laptop came not long after a woman at Borders bookstore in Garden City told me all about her troublesome daughter. I’m pretty sure she didn’t intend to tell me anything, but she shared every anguished word with me and others who were looking for a good book. She poured her worries into her cell phone with a voice that spilled out beyond the latest nonfiction and paperback mysteries. She was in a bookstore, cutting into literary considerations with a private conversation turned public. Like the laptop user at the bar, she appeared to have not a clue that she was pushing her life in the way of others.

So we've got two separate matters here. A computer at the bar and the public cell phone conversationalist who believes s/he is perpetually surrounded by deaf people.

I am 150% with Bob on the latter. The loud cell phone user is in a slightly different rudeness category as the point-of-purchase cell phonist, though both involve the inflicting of personal information, willy nilly, on the public. I was in a Whole Foods check-out line a couple of weeks ago behind a woman who carried out the entire process - loading of the conveyor, scanning of items, bagging and paying - talking intensely into a cell phone. When the clerk turned to me and my items, I observed that she needed a "No Cell Phone" sign at her register. She replied in cheerful bemusement and a killer Southern accent, "Ah just learned all of that girl's business!" Indeed. Whether or not she was interested.

So, absolutely. The mis-placed and/or loud cell phonist. Inconsiderate and boorish.

What I'm not getting is the laptop computer at the bar. Why is this rude? What unspoken bar etiquette has been breached? How is this "a moment of social breakdown" that makes Bob think wistfully of direct, corrective action?

... the bartender faced with a customer who sits down at the bar and opens a laptop might have a few practiced suggestions picked up in technology etiquette classes. The bartender might say, for example: “If you don’t want 16 ounces of Irish stout poured on your keyboard, you might want to take you and your laptop somewhere else.”
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Sometimes Kerr sounds unhinged,sometimes he makes sense(like on veterans' issues)-this thing about laptops-what is his problem?Was he trying to get busy with the woman and saw the laptop as a rival?Probably not,but what is it to him?A laptop is non-intrusive.I don't own one,just making an observation.
I'm with him on the cell phone stuff.It's become like a baby rattle or "paci"for many people.
I generally don't take a cell phone inside an establishment with me.
Kerr thought Martha Coakley was a good Senatorial candidate.'Nuf said.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 30, 2010 8:22 PM

I can't say laptop people annoy me, I mostly feel sorry for them. Why don't they just wear a sign "I have no friends, I have no life, there is just me and this piece of technology".

This is particularly true when I see them seeking wi-fi in Dunkin Donuts. In my local DD, there was one poor guy who sat there with his laptop from opening until closing. The manager finally had to ask him to leave after 3 weeks of dawn to dark.

Harbor Freight sells fake Bluetooth ear bugs for $3.98. I wonder if $5.00 lap tops are next.

I guess I am just slow on the uptake, it took me years to realize that water bottles were fashion statements. I thought all of those people carrying bottles of frog water were actually thirsty.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at January 30, 2010 9:52 PM

Plopping a laptop on a bar seems crude to me. I can't exactly say why it does, but bars are places of human contact and sociability. A head buried in a laptop seems as though it ought to be someplace else!

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at January 30, 2010 11:17 PM

I cannot stand the use of cell phones in a public space.

going along with Justin's story, I was at a Target just two months ago behind a woman doing the same, engaged in her conversation, oblivious to her surroundings while the cashier waited somewhat patiently for the lady to empty the contents of her tote.

I wasn't so patient when the lady raised a 'just one minute' finger to the cashier implying her conversation would be over soon.

I handed the cashier my two items and stepped in front of the cell phone lady and told her that apparently she wasn't ready to check out her items and it was rude of her to think that everyone else's day revolved around her ignorance.

I've no problem being short with people on cellphones.

A bar is a place where everyone should know your name and if you cannot live without your laptop for 30 minutes, go to Starbucks and latte your day away.

Posted by: Roland at January 31, 2010 12:51 AM

Oh shoot! I just agreed with OTL!!!

I need a drink.

Posted by: Roland at January 31, 2010 12:54 AM

As someone who goes to bars both encumbered and unencumbered by the ball-and-chain laptop, I think that the difference is whether or not it's -actually on the bar-. If you want to be alone, with a special someone, or on the laptop, grab a little table. The bar itself -is- common ground; it's where people who want to meet other people, for whatever purpose, go.

As far as cell phones... Conversations should be private, the mobility offers a chance to -walk away- from innocent bystanders that should be exercised more often. Exceptions for the "what kind of low-fat soy blahbedyblah did you say?" conversation are forgivable. Conversation should be expressly shunned at the Point of Sale itself. Texting is appropriate in line.

Basic takeaway: Any time where conversation, no matter how routine, is expected, you should not be engaging via a communication device.

Posted by: mangeek at January 31, 2010 4:35 AM

Geez, Monique, I think this may be an AR first- the whole array of characters agreeing on something!

What I find even more disturbing and ubiquitous in this wired in culture, is the texting/Blackberry addiction. It is rare that I can go out for a coffee, drink, or dinner with a person or group without one or more of the people tethered to their phone, half paying attention to our conversation, while texting at the same time. I must be entering the age of old biddy, because I tell the younger crowd that their mothers would be embarassed by their actions, and they usually agree. These are often otherwise well-mannered people, who have been sucked into participating in an extremely rude cultural phenomenon.

Posted by: MadMom at January 31, 2010 10:37 AM

They're buying snow blowers in Hell.

As Walter Matthau said in the otherwise forgettable movie, "First Monday in October" (on which I worked as a gopher in my long-gone youth), "A telephone has no Constitutional right to be answered."

Posted by: BobN at January 31, 2010 10:43 AM

One of these days, confronted by a loud and stupid cellphoner, I am going to whip out a pen, or some other obviously non-communication device, and start talking into it as though I am having a similar loud conversation (sorry if I disturb the real cellphoner). My imaginary conversation will consist of explanations of the rudeness of some people, and so forth.

Posted by: isilverman at January 31, 2010 11:13 AM

I too find myself in agreement with OTL. Find a quiet table and have at it. As for cell phones, quite another story. Take it outside. The real problem is that these self-important people don't really care about the rest of the civilized world. At a bar one time a friend and I sat next to someone talking loudly on a cell phone. We sat on each side of him and conducted our own conversation around him. He took the hint.

Posted by: bobc at January 31, 2010 12:27 PM

I occasionally have reason to take a laptop into a bar (part-time paying Web gig), but always at a table by myself. I want to be as unobtrusive as possible (making a friend of the bartender or waitperson is always helpful).
They're actually pretty common in sports bars during football season, with fantasy football junkies (been there, done it, tired of it).
As annoying as cell phone hacks can be, they're nothing compared to Bluetooth people. In a "Curb Your Enthusiasm" episode last year, Larry David gives a clinic on how to deal with a Bluetoother in a restaurant.

Posted by: rhody at January 31, 2010 9:39 PM
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