March 9 2011 10:12 AM

How to know if you're a rude cyborg

A new friend came over to my beach cottage for dinner the other night and spent half the time texting. The following day, I let her know she was lucky I didn't throw her phone in the ocean. I also made it clear I wouldn't be hanging out with her anymore.

I'm not going into detail about that. It's enough to know that she can't turn off her damn phone and that I'm a dick.

Our species has to figure out how we're going to survive these gizmos.

My overreaction to the new friend's inability to be fully present was the culmination of some cognitive dissonance that's been brewing in my psyche for some time. On more than one occasion during the last year, I've sat across from someone who was texting away, thinking to myself, This person doesn't know that this is probably the last meal I'll ever cook for them.

I'm not only harsh, but I could easily be accused of hypocrisy, given that I've been teased for fiddling with my precious iPhone at parties.

Maybe it isn't entirely OK to touch screen at a party; at least it's more OK. If my phone and I have slipped away from the party to post this column on Facebook, there are other partygoers you can talk to during my temporary absence. This is an axiom: The rudeness factor of cell-phone usage increases as the number of people present decreases.

Every damn one of us has these things now, and they're getting “smarter,” as we all know. It's an aspect of that cyborgian business that philosopher Donna Haraway cheekily conjured in the early '90s. We're all cyborgs now since the lines between people and machines, natural and artificial, have blurred.

Haraway was down with embracing the cyborgasmord because it was both tangible (artificial limbs, virtual reality, etc.) and an apt metaphor for questioning the naturalness of gender, social hierarchies and so forth. But I'll bet if she were having dinner with a colleague who busted out a Droid to play Infinity Blade, Haraway would stab that cyborg with a butter knife.

I am by no means one of those granolans who disdain cell phones because they can't afford one, or who would rather communicate by means of two empty Amy's soup cans connected by some hemp string. Yes, I know Twitter is helping topple dictatorships. Yes, I like GPS and Wunderradio and checking my e-mail every waking minute just like you.

But because there are no rules of disengagement from the present, we're all cyborging it freestyle. In this nebulous gray area that is the possibility of constant, instant communication with, and access to, the entire world, the “when” and “how much” of personal mobile communication appendage use is the ultimate courtesy boondoggle of our age.

That's right, you sullen, self-centered hipster, I said “courtesy.” Like using your automobile's turn indicator or thanking the person who bagged your burrito.

When I started thinking about this issue, I considered jotting down some definitive rules of cell phone usage while on dates—a Manifesto of Mobile Manners—like Ed Decker might do, but I'm not as big a fascist as Ed; I'm not going to tell you what to do.

All I'm going to tell you is what I wish you would do, and what you will have to do to remain my friend. These four simple principles apply to both dates and “just friends” hangouts, which, given enough tequila, may generally be considered potential dates.

1. turn off the phone: This is best. turn it off like your whole world was Symphony Hall or a funeral or you were in an airplane taking off. I once went hiking with a friend whose phone kept ringing on a mountain trail, shattering the pristine silence with some godawful musical ringtone that I've since blocked from my mind, but for illustration purposes, let's say was Switchfoot. I will not hike with that person again.

2. Vibrate and hide: Maybe you have an ill family member, or you're expecting an answer about an important job opportunity or an eBay socks auction. I understand that some things are critical. At least it's not ringing. Keep in mind that this is emergency mode. If you're constantly buzzing and checking, you're not really there and you are being rude. Caveat: If you've strategically placed the vibrating implement in your crotchal area to get off on its hummingbird-like fluctuations, I might make an exception.

3. Apologize: If you're really going to claim that you desperately need to take this call or send a text to somebody more important than me—or whatever it is you're doing over there—then at least say you're sorry. Acknowledging that you're being a selfish and obsessive cyborg will go a long way toward making up for your obnoxious behavior.

4. Remove yourself from the area: One acquaintance of mine receives business calls at lunch in restaurants and takes them at the table. His voice gets louder in proportion to how well he can hear the caller, which is usually not well at all. When I ask him to take it outside, he can't hear me over the sound of himself yelling into his phone, annoying other diners and embarrassing me. Don't be like you-know-who-you-are (OK, it's my dad).

Finally, I'd like to dispense once and for all with this excuse I keep hearing: “But I'm multi-tasking!” Please shut up. You are not “multi-tasking.” First, you didn't hear a goddamn word I just said, and, second, texting your homie is not a “task.”

Maybe, for peace of mind, I should invite some like-minded friends to a “no cell phone” gathering, where we can further flesh out these courtesies.

How do you send a group text invitation again?

Wait, just give me a second.

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