One weekday afternoon, I was sitting in a Borders Café, trying to work, while some guy, probably in his earlier 20s, was practically shouting into a cell phone as he argued with someone—presumably his roommate—about a cable bill.

It’s funny how many sociological questions can arise from overhearing a conversation like that. For instance:

Do people feel shame anymore? Have people always been so inconsiderate? What does it say about society that we tolerate someone so brazenly disrupting others? Or that someone would feel comfortable broadcasting his petty financial issue to a café full of strangers? What are the social ramifications of this perfect storm of disrespect for self and disrespect for others? How does this rudeness affect our quality of life? How does the difficulty of finding quietude affect thought, discourse, and conversation?

How dependent are we on technology? Does technology fuel our impatience? What about the irony of racking up daytime cell phone minutes to argue over another communications bill?

How much money does a young person need to live on? Does teenagers’ high level of disposable income set them up to expect too high a lifestyle later on? What happens when they have to economize in order to eat, if they’ve never done it before? How do they manage their money? What do young people understand about money management? How do they learn it? From the same souce teaching them manners?

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13 thoughts on “Overheard

  1. Dear Leslie,

    Your reflections on technology reminded me of something from an essay that I recently read by Stephen L. Talbot:

    “We dare not think that, just because we can do good things with technology, it therefore threatens no radical and unconsidered change. If John Doe was initially delighted with his new ‘freedom’ to visit an ailing aunt, the time would come when visiting any friend or relative at all would require a lengthy car trip along painfully congested highways. What looks like freedom in the short term may constrain us in the long term.”

    However, Talbot gives some hope in another essay:

    “The question… is whether we might still recover a sense for the artistic human gesture, for the inner significance of every personal meeting, for the communal sharing out of which a society’s future can be fashioned.

    “If we learn to care about these things, we will happily pay for them in every product and service–not because we have given up efficiency, but because we now seek ends that simply cannot be mechanically contrived. We will no longer lash out against our machines. Nor will we fail to recognize the anti-human consequences of a progress conceived in purely technical terms.

    “Machines will then find their rightful place in our lives precisely because we are paying attention first of all to each other.”

    Bryan Atchison

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