“Death of proximity”

Sounds like a poorly-translated title of a foreign art film.

But it’s a thing, a term anthropologists have come up with.

It relates to the fact that most people now hold smartphones in more esteem than other humans and act accordingly.

Even though the offender may be sitting right next to a person and talking to that person, when the phone rings, the act of answering is effectively the same as if the call recipient has left the building.

Even worse, the person may spiritually depart the conversation in mid-sentence to initiate a call, order something from Amazon, check the weather or refer to the latest bit of misinformation algorithms have provided.

I suspect this happens to you on a daily basis. You are talking with someone and they pull out their phone (if it’s not already out) and suddenly they are in a different universe from yours. They may act like they are still paying attention to you but that sort of multitasking is not a real thing.

Obviously, traditional etiquette and consideration for others is right out the window with this behavior and the anthropologists are struggling to discover what new form of etiquette might work.

If not, before long each of us will be isolated in our respective technological bubble, oblivious to all around us that is not received via megabits and bytes.

We’ve been headed this way for many years.

I have long credited the invention of the TV dinner with first fostering this separation and isolation.

For decades, perhaps centuries, families sat down around a table and shared food and conversation. Even though their schedules might be crammed with other activities, meals were still somewhat sacred. The value was enhanced by the fact that homes included more multi-generational families than today, so knowledge, history and culture could be passed on from elders to youngsters.

Then the Swanson people, stuck with a bunch of extra turkey, came up with the idea of the TV dinner.

Suddenly people moved from the table to the den. They no longer looked at each other, but at the new electronic idol of TV, and listened to it rather than talking with each other.

It’s all been downhill since then.

I don’t know how to stop it. It’s probably too late. People’s lives are dictated to by devices and they prioritize those devices over people – at least that is what their behavior indicates. I try not to, but I am guilty, too.

If I were more cynical and paranoid I would say this is just a plot to dumb down the public, making them totally rely on the phones and other devices before suddenly yanking them away, leaving us powerless and functionless.

If you have been around long enough, you can remember that we were able to function quite adequately when all the phones were still attached by physical wires to the network. Have we lost that ability?

I know it hurts but the next time you go see someone, leave your phone in the car or at the door. If you are sharing a meal, at least put the phone on do not disturb and do not have it anywhere within reach.

We already have enough dissension and failed communication among everyone, so decide you are in charge of your phone, not the other way around.

If you call me and I don't answer immediately, chances are I am talking with someone and trying to show them the courtesy I, or you, would like to be shown. I am trying to do better and will call back as soon as I reasonably can.

Try it. Of course it will hurt to resist the hypnotic pull of the phone for a few days. But this allows you to show others that you do hold them in higher regard than an over-priced walkie-talkie and that Southern etiquette is not quite dead after all.

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