Living the Screen Life

No doubt, I’m getting older. Most of the time, I’m OK with it. You can say things you could not say at 25 and 35 and get away with it. If you make a double-entendre, everyone assumes it was an accident.

While out of town this past week, I got to be in situations involving a lot of people, and it made me aware of the behavior in different demographics. It also made me aware I am no longer in the major demographic, defined as the one marketers prefer, and gear their marketing to.

Together and alone, living the screen life. Source: flickr, Susan, NYC

When you are young, you want to identify with a group’s behavior because it is easy, it’s acceptable, it’s expedient, and, well, it’s what everyone in your demographic does.

As you get older, you want to do all those things, too–but the demographic shifts. You no longer find the dominant demographic right, useful, or expedient. Here’s a sampling of examples:

—Riding in a van with strangers seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity to get to know people, to talk to people about their experiences and conclusions about life. The van ride was completely silent as everyone concentrated on their small screen lives. Hunched over phones, reading emails, texting, watching videos of somewhere else, not here, not now. Life is not out the window for those folks, life is on the screen, in the Not-here.

— Waitstaff, hotel porters, store clerks are all human. I look them in the eye when I’m speaking to them. The good ones are trained to look back; the majority are looking around for someone more like them. Someone who doesn’t make eye contact.

— I say “thank you” and “I appreciate your help” way too often. Brought up on “please” and “thank you,” I use it generously, and often. As one person in my vicinity said, “Do you always suck up like that? It’s not like they saved your life.” The idea of restricting thanks to people who save lives is not appealing. The idea that someone who has known me for 10 minutes needs to fix me to find me acceptable is not appealing, either.

— The constant reminders that we are not paying attention to someone else, right now. I no longer ask for people to turn off their cell phones when I teach. It doesn’t work, and it annoys the class. The constant beeping, buzzing, tootling, and chirping of phones is now part of class. Two people had their cell phones in plastic baggies, so they could use them with ink-stained fingers. We now can’t leave our kids, our friends, our spouses out of our lives for even an hour. There was a constant cycling in and out of class as people took calls or made them, of checking texts that cried for attention, and answering them. This ran strongly along age lines.

Reading and answering texts slows down classes so much, that I now give less information because I have to repeat more.

—The need to shop. I understand the need to be entertained by unique shopping experiences. I do not understand the thrill of visiting the same chain shops available in your home town. Does an Old Navy in Dallas really carry totally different items than an Old Navy in Phoenix? Or is the thrill the comfort of the familiar?

Every demographic thinks theirs is right, best, easiest, and most modern. It has to be that way, or change would never happen and progress would never be achieved.  I love my high-tech gear, I use electronic boarding passes on all my flights. But I also love the high-touch, low-tech feeling of real life. Of being totally focused on the people I am with now, here, in Face-Time.

Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a creativity coach.

37 thoughts on “Living the Screen Life

  1. I have to say, if I were teaching anywhere from tween-age to mid-20s, I’d probably invest in a mini-cell reception blocker just big enough to cover my classroom. 😉

  2. I worked in a tax office this past tax season, sharing receptionist responsibilities with 3 college girls. All 3 kept their phones on as they worked, checking for and sending texts frequently. I found this very disrespectful. Another major annoyance for me is when I am having a conversation with a good friend over the phone and they ask me to “hold on, my other(cell) phone is ringing”. Then they come back to me to let me know a friend is on the phone and they have to take it. I wonder how they would feel if the rolls were reversed…

    • Ahh, yes, the “attention span of a gerbil in heat” syndrome. It’s so funny, I remember so clearly when the answering machine was invented and NO ONE answered the phone anymore. Everyone screened their calls. Now, we have voice mail, and no one uses it.

  3. Boy, oh boy, do I relate to this post! I was at a wedding recently and FOUR TIMES during the ceremony, someone’s cell phone went off. Each time that happened, rather than looking mortified (as I would have) for interrupting the service, the person stood up, crawled over the people on the pew next to him/her to get to the aisle, and stepped out to take the call. I guess the bride and groom should be grateful that none of them just sat there in the church, talking on their phones! I also feel that, at my age, I am not the person advertisers are trying to reach. In fact, I joined one of those on-line sites that pay you to take surveys and give your opinions on things. For each survey, you must first enter information about yourself (sex, state you live in, age, things like that) so that the people doing the survey can be sure you are in the group they want to participate. On EVERY one, the moment I put in my age (I just turned 52) a message popped up saying that I do not qualify for the survey. I appreciate very much the technological advances that allow me to send messages pratically instantaneously, see the faces of loved ones as we visit via Skype, and the like. But I still very much adore an actual handwritten letter or birthday card, rather than the electronic version. I love it when I am shopping and the clerk can actually count the change back to me from the price of the item to the amount that I gave them, rather than just hand me a stack of bills and coins and say, “Here you go. Three dollars and six cents.” I am definitely old, huh! =D

    • Wow, that shopping service must have hurt! And I’m not sure why marketers are ignoring boomers. Do we not want enough new “stuff”? Are we not spending our money fast enough? Is that a bad thing, considering all the tsk-tsking that went on after the housing crash? Ohhhh, counting back change. I love it. Occasionally, when I give a cashier an amount of money that will result in an even amount of change (Let’s say $1.25 in change) the cashier will look at me and say, “How did you know that?” and I’ll say “Magic!” because for them, it is.

  4. I’m appalled at the rudeness of the “suck up” person, It feels like a slap in the face. It almost seems like a form of “bullying” .

    I know I’m getting older but being polite and showing kindness isn’t just for older people, it’s a matter of respect for your fellow man. It’s a better way of getting along in the world.

  5. And the policemen look younger by the day. Lol.
    I learnt from my father who would greet anything that moved. 😉 I taught my kids from a very young age to say hello when they entred a shop and to say bye when they left. Most people are surprised at bell behaved teens, so it is a worldwide thing.
    What I don´t like are the automatic response with “Sorry” for anything. What use is to SAY “sorry” when they clearly aren´t?

  6. There is NO SUCH THING as saying “Thank you” or “I appreciate your help” too often. And looking someone in the eye while speaking to them is common courtesy, nothing more, or nothing less. Please, let’s not lose our selves in “virtual” lives, let’s live HERE and NOW and enjoy the journey!

    • I always greet waitstaff and grocery store checkers by name (if they have on nametags) and so often I hear “thank you for using my name.” I’m sure the “I’m Bryce and I’ll be your server tonight” it meant for the convenience of the diner, I also like to use it to recognize the human being serving me. Particularly if the service is careful and cheerful.

  7. Great post!

    Re: thanking and/or acknowledging people in service industries, this is something I’ve said for years:

    Everyone should work at least six months either waiting tables or in retail on the selling floor. Then maybe they’d hesitate to be rude or condescending to folks who do that for a living.

  8. And on a side note, I would like to get all of the commenters here together. What a fun, interesting, joyful, face to face get-together that would be!!

  9. Oh Quinn, you and I are of the same cloth! I keep saying that young people today will truly not know how to carry on a conversation tomorrow. I, for one, never go into an appointment, class or similar situation without turning the ringer off on my cell phone. Not vibrate, OFF. I think it’s rude to the person doing my hair, the instructor teaching the class or the person I’m having lunch or dinner with. Why can’t we give someone our undivided attention for a short span of the day? It’s like we are telling that person that this pointless text conversation is more important than what we are doing at the moment. It drives me insane!

    And regarding basic manners and appreciation…I love complimenting people for a job well done or showing my appreciation to someone, even the bagger at the grocery store. It’s a win-win for all involved. I feel better that I took a moment to show my appreciation and they feel better for being appreciated. How difficult is that?

    Great and timely post. I wish everyone in the world would read it.

    • Me, too, Traci–I wish everyone would read it! I know your big and good heart, and I love how you treat the people you come into casual contact with. It’s easy to say a few kind words, and I like doing it. If it doesn’t take root, fine, but if it does, JOY!

  10. no manners or civility any more. I always say thank you for any service rendered to me. never know when you may need that thank you back. the cell phone thing is going to bring down our society (just kidding) when we can no longer communicate face to face.

  11. I totally am in agreement with your post Quinn and all the comments above. I’ve had conversations with others where when they receive a text, they stop mid-sentence to look at and respond to the text. It makes me feel somehow belittled and not important. All a person would have to do is say, “Excuse me, I need to check this text and respond to it possibly. Would you mind?”. At least I would have been given some consideration. And I can’t believe people won’t turn the cellphones off during class, or at least silence them and leave the class if they must respond. They are cheating themselves. There’s an ad for a small device for kids that plays movies. It drives me nuts when I see it. It suggests this device is great for watching favorite movies anytime, INCLUDING AT THE BEACH OR WITH FRIENDS!!! What kind of message is that! I like using the technology as a tool, not a way of life. I’m glad to be part of the face-to-face crowd with the rest of you.

  12. I am with your every word today. I have typed and erased a 1000 words already because of all the thoughts and feelings your words brought out this morning. I am filled with sorrow for the way society has lost the ability to communicate. I too am getting older and find friends text me instead of calling – and I find writing a sentence with more than 5 words is getting to be a challenge. (We had a teacher in high school who requested sentences of 25 words or more using various punctuation marks. I once counted 350 words in a Mark Twain sentence and it was not a “run on”.) Cell phones in classes, church, and in public are acts of disrespect and I will stop there… I would love to be able to take one of your workshops. I love your book, which I just started – have 3 pages in my journal so far – and this morning was looking for words for found poems. Back to my search!

  13. I agree totally with your post. The need for these people to be glued to their phones constantly is not only annoying and rude, but unsafe. I’m just waiting for the day that one of the people crossing the street downtown gets smacked by a car because they were not paying attention to the crossing lights. I personally do not like being available to the world 24 hours a day and I only give my cell number out to those who need to reach me in an emergency [and I don’t have a smart phone – just an el cheapo phone phone].
    Would it put people off too much for you to announce at the beginning of a class that you have a limited time to share your material and that if anyone needs to leave the room due to pressing issues on their telephone that you will not be repeating material so that the people who are completely in attendance get the most out of the class? I know that if I was in a class where the instructor was constantly repeating material for those who could not be bothered to be in complete attendance I would feel cheated.

  14. Hi Quinn,
    This post so resonated with me that I am still twanging. I was absolutely appalled by that person’s comment on your politeness and gratitude for others’ help–asking if you always suck up like that. That it wasn’t as if they had saved your life! The only thing worth saying thank you for is your physical life?! Excuse me!? I always thank people for their help whenever someone helps me, whether they’re paid to do it or not. It’s something I don’t have to do, or know how to do, or am not allowed to do. And I always try to connect with them–notice a picture on their desk, or if they’re wearing something pretty, say so. It makes me feel better, and sometimes people just light up when someone treats them as a real person and not a faceless “servant.” And I won’t even go into the rudeness of allowing your phone to ring in a class or a place or a time where and when it is disturbing to others. And the picture accompanying your post is so symbolic! Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words (and real words, not texting words!). Thanks for speaking out for multitudes of us who still believe in real, face-to-face human communication and connection!

  15. Very well said, Quinn.
    You are so right about demographics, about age differences. I reach for a cookbook whereas my daughter strokes her laptop when preparing meals. I quickly open my handwritten day planner as my son-in-law messes around with his smart phone calendar.

    But! But, my hubby (somewhat computer illiterate) recently asked for a touch screen desk top computer. Will wonders never cease. 🙂

  16. Something I noticed lately about myself … I am a very shy introvert. Always have been, so contact over the web appeals to me. But I find people who are extroverted don’t communicate orally anymore … so now I am seen as ‘outgoing’ because I will speak up when needed. Sorry, this is random, but your post paralleled some of my own thoughts lately.

  17. This post is why I read blogs. Sometimes you find one that says what you’ve been screaming to say for months but can’t find the words. Thank you, Quinn, for finding them, especially the words about living your life through someone else’s video, etc.

  18. I love to walk down the street and smile and nod to others! Often I don’t get anything back but often I get a smile and nod back. I love to thank people who have helped me! Now I am in my upper 50’s but I think my daughter does the same! It makes life a lot more fun! Keep it up!!!! And thanks for sharing!!!!

    • It’s so simple to acknowledge someone else’s work, effort, or help. Yesterday I smiled and used a checkout person’s name from her name tag. She was so grateful! She said, “No one speaks to me all day.” How sad is that.

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