Friday, June 14, 2013

"You can't stop the signal, Mal"

Recover - Chvrches (mp3)
Kill the Killjoy - The Disciplines (mp3)

You sit down to dinner with your family. You don't get to do it as much as you'd like, 'cuz families are busy. Athletic practices, music lessons, business conflicts, church obligations, all of these seem to reduce the opportunities for family nights at the dinner table to one or two each week if you're lucky. But here's your chance to savor togetherness. Enjoy this peaceful moment.

BZZZZ! Your phone.

Dinner hasn't started yet, so you pull it out of your pocket and check. It's a text message, but it's not really to you; it's a group text to five people. Three of them are watching a game together (but in different locations, maybe even different states) and have decided to include you in their back-and-forth banter.

One of your children begins to bless the food. God is great. God is BZZZZ! good. Let us thank Him for BZZZZ! our food. By his hands we all are fed. BZZZZ! Give us Lord BZZZZ! our daily BZZZZ! bread.

It's almost like a bad prank, like Candid Camera is watching you as you try to ignore the mini-vibrator in your pocket.*

A week later, you're stuck in an early afternoon meeting on Friday, the cruelest of work-based pranks. BZZZZ! You subtly check your phone below the table -- it could be your wife, or your kid, or a reminder from your calendar, who knows? Several college friends have gone away for an early golf weekend. They've texted a pic of themselves on the 13th hole to 15 of their pals, including you. It's a funny pic, no doubt. One of the guys looks like he's humping the hole, and another is slapping him on the ass while the third looks like he's cheering them on. You chuckle but try to redirect your focus on this stupid meeting, and you put the phone back in your pocket and look back at the yapper.

As you can see on Chart 4b on page 12, BZZZZ! ("That's awesome!!!"), blah blah blah... BZZZZ! ("LOL!") ... BZZZZ! ("Wish I was there!") ... BZZZZ! ("Have fun guys! You suck!!") ... BZZZZ! ("I hate y'all! I'll tell you what I'd like to do with that putter!")

Your gaddam phone buzzes so much that the “muted” vibrating becomes its own distinct noise, a sort of human dog whistle. One of the higher-ranking ladies at the table gives that look of someone trying to not look annoyed but also trying to get across the impression that they could start looking annoyed very very soon.

BZZZZ! BZZZZ! BZZZZ! The conversation continues. There’s more than a dozen of your friends having a blast in a never-ending ever-available chat room, and you have no way of excusing yourself from their party other than turning your phone completely off and shutting out not only them but the rest of the phone-accessible world. You are involuntarily opted in, and you cannot opt out.

And they’re not intentionally being rude. They have no way of knowing what they might be interrupting.

Or this.

Your daughter can’t make the weekend soccer tourney, but you get BZZZZ! all the group texts alllllll weekend -- 20, sometimes 50 in a matter of hours -- telling you where BZZZZ! they’re eating dinner, when to be at the fields, which BZZZZ! jersey to wear, what movie they BZZZZ! might or might not try to go see BZZZZ! as a group.

When You Can't Be Where You Wish You Were, group texts are (arguably) a nice salve. But in a world that makes it ever more difficult to "Be Where You Are," group texts are the black flies swarming into the moment.

This would be my Number One Smartphone Request for the next level of upgrade: Let people opt out of group text “conversations.” I am not so foolish as to believe I’m solely a victim of this feature. Many times I’m either the genesis or an active participant in a large-group text moment, and surely someone or many someones in that group is cursing me for it. I wish they could choose to escape me, too.

We're an ever-distracted people; we don't need one more insignificant thing we can't ignore. Just let us opt out. Even Mr. Universe would approve.

* -- And that doesn't even count the Phantom Buzz problem.


Suzy Frame said...
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troutking said...

This is a great idea, Billy. It can't be that hard to program. Why hasn't it already been done?