Dear Big Daddy,
Whatever happened to common courtesy and table manners? It seems like they have been trumped by Blackberries, iPhones, tablets and the need to text and check email 24/7. The collegial power lunch has gone the way of the dodo. What can one do?
--Irked in Arcata
I get this question frequently. Let me tell you what I told "Annoyed in Anaheim," who was irked, too.
You are right to be frustrated with the rude behavior of your Blackberry- and iPhone-addicted friends. Unfortunately, this addiction isn't just affecting friendships, it's taking its toll on family relationships as well. Big Daddy, sensitive and caring, has noticed a disturbing trend of constant communication that is, in fact, stifling real interpersonal relationships.
It is entirely incomprehensible how a person can sit across from you at lunch, and while you're mid-sentence answering a question they asked of you, pick up their Blackberry or iPhone and start reading email. While you're talking to them!
Let's be clear. Your friend doesn't necessarily KNOW that anyone has sent him an urgent message that requires an immediate reply. He's just hoping. Hoping that someone – anyone -- somewhere in the world needs his advice or opinion immediately. In the world of instant electronic communication, we're becoming a society dependent on someone or multiple persons wanting to talk to us all at once at any given time.
It is important to understand the nature of the bad behavior, so let’s address two of the most common reasons that otherwise perfectly polite and endearing people become insufferable and annoying to be around once they've become addicted to their Blackberries. See if you can relate to either of these profiles.
You have an inadequate boss: Your boss demands your attention every waking (and even non-waking) moment of the day, therefore requiring you to carry around your Blackberry even in the most intimate of moments. If you fit this profile, you have become the co-dependent of an egomaniacal lunatic.
This type of boss isn't trying to suck dry every last drop of creativity and talent that you have to offer. Rather, this boss is playing Judith Light to your Tony Danza. He's showing you Who's The Boss.
This type of person is on an absurd power trip, because he has no real control over his own life, and gets an odd burst of adrenaline by publicly cussing you out, not to your face, but to the email you just sent in response. Your note explains, as diplomatically as possible, that the request he just made of you is not only humanly impossible, but could incite a federal investigation that you don't have time to defend against because you’re too busy replying to his email. To this sort of boss, the Blackberry is a leash, and he's got you wearing a choke collar. Bite his leg and stop rolling over and playing dead for him. Put down the Blackberry. Drop it!
But what is to be said for the self-employed consultant or those whose jobs provide them with a great deal of independence? What possible excuse do those people have for checking their Blackberry every two minutes while you’re trying to enjoy casual gossip over the chicken salad at Ambrosia or the tomato basil soup at Jump Start? It could be that the self-employed chap is hopelessly checking to see if his would-be client has agreed to sign a contract.
If so, pathetic. Being at the beck and call of a new client is no way to start a lucrative relationship where the goal is to do as little for your client as possible and still get paid. Again, this type of behavior belies a deep sense of insecurity.
It's not that Blackberries don’t have their usefulness. What better way to look important, busy and in-demand than to scroll through the dozens of Viagra, home mortgage and car insurance spam while you wait for the valet to bring your car around? Show that newly divorced soccer mom on Aisle 5 how powerful and in command you are by pulling your shopping cart over in the natural foods section and rapidly responding to an e-mail while rolling your eyes and shaking your head. Surely she will smell the success as it oozes out your pours as you type with your thumbs. Those thumbs are what separate you from the lesser species--that is, the species without a Blackberry. (You thought I was going to say dog, didn't you?)
Show your family and friends a little respect. Show them they really are more important than the egomaniacal lunatic who insists you worship at the alter of his low self-esteem.
Turn the Blackberry off at night – and the iPhone too.
When your boss leaves for that next big promotion or job across town, you will soon learn that for all the times you responded to her email in five minutes or less, you really didn't accomplish anything that couldn’t wait until Monday morning. And you'll be left wondering, doesn't anyone need my opinion -- about anything? Anyone? Anyone?