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Manners Don't Always Keep Up
With Advances In Technology

by Cookie Curci

Today, technology brings American consumers new and better conveniences. And with these innovations, old standards, rituals and courtesies have begun to fade- in particular, good phone manners. This may be because today's young adults were repelled by the strict rules of etiquette their mother's and grandmothers adhered to when they were growing up.

The "white glove syndrome", if you will, instilled in them a rebellion against old-fashioned, staunch rules and regulations. Understandably, the modern generation believes in teaching more important values to their children, such as self reliance and good character. Though this philosophy is admirable, I can't help but worry that the new generation may forfeit the fundamental basics of good manners and etiquette.

There's no doubt that each of us is guilty of bad manners once-in-awhile.

Cell-phones and the ensuing mobility they give us, may be responsible for a large portion of this lapse in manners. The mobile phone inspires us to engage in public telephone conversations with friends and colleges any time, any place, anywhere. Oblivious to people around us, we carry on "private" conversations while squeezing tomatoes at the grocery store, trying on a dress at the shopping Mall or, worst of all, sitting in our doctors waiting room.
Bystanders aren't interested in hearing long winded conversations between cell phone users and their baby sitters, stock brokers and friends.
And no one wants to hear you howling at the kids for five minutes, or exchanging recipes with your Aunt Martha, or discussing your stock options while in line at the supermarket. The cacophony of cell phones beeping and ringing in public places has become a familiar sound. I salute the technology that allows the human voice to travel across town or around the world, but scientific aspects aside, lets all try to use this grand invention with a little more grace and good manners.

Recently, I invited an old friend of mine over for tea. I hadn't seen her in a long while so I was anxious for her arrival. Upon hearing her car door slam, I sprung to my feet and flung open my front door. But instead of a friendly hug, I was given a dispassionate nod, and I had to wait while she continued a conversation on her cell phone. My friend continued her robust dialog a good 5 minutes before finally removing the uninvited, cellular intruder from her ear. I realize that my friend is a busy career woman and business must be conducted regularly on her cell phone. But it's just plain good manners to finish her phone conversations while in her car and turn off her cell-phone long enough to greet me properly.

When doing my banking, I'm always frustrated when a teller interrupts my service to answer the phone. Maybe I'm wrong, but the person who got all dressed up, drove their car several miles to get to the bank should be given precedence over phone customers.

Then there's "Call Waiting", a function that ranks high on my list of offending habits. "Call interrupted" is probably a better appellation for this service. I can't imagine anything more aggravating than to be right in the middle of a profound statement - just about to make a point - and the person on the other end of the line stops me cold with: "Hold on, I've got another call". My story, its crescendo, and I are now placed in a state of limbo, where I languish until my callers return. Whenever I have to hold while someone answers their call-waiting, I can't help but feel they are making a furtive decision as to which conversation to terminate - mine or the new caller's. Inevitably, one caller is always going to feel slighted. As for me, I'd rather just get an old-fashioned busy signal.

Recently, when I phoned someone at an inconvenient time, my friend answered the phone in grudging monosyllables, hoping her obvious annoyance would cut the conversation short? It worked, but I doubt I'll be calling her back anytime soon. It would have been much nicer had she simply asked me to call back at a better time.

No one wants to be exposed to a telephone bore. But, there are times when many of us monopolize a phone conversation, launching into endless accounts about ourselves, our lives, our activities, our family. Lets not forget to give the other guy a chance too.

I learned many years ago from my grandmother the value of being a good listener, but there is also a responsibility to be a good conversationalist. If someone tosses you the conversation with, "Have you played any golf lately?" Do you drop it with an unimaginative "No"? Or do you toss it back with a friendly, "Not yet, I hope to real soon, by the way how's your game?"

On the other hand, some callers can be too friendly. I welcome social telephone calls, but I'm continually amazed at the lack of propriety among some callers. With casual aplomb they confide their most intimate personal secrets. A new acquaintance phoned to tell me she had two face lifts, 2 nose jobs, and a tummy tuck. She also told me she had a great time on her tropical vacation. "It would have been better", she added, "If I hadn't been caught shoplifting!" I was no more interested in her criminal record then I was in her second rynoplasty.

In the name of open communication, we have become a kiss and tell society. Witness; the casual acquaintance who confided to me on the phone that her husband likes to wear red silk boxer shorts with little green mermaids printed on them.When I finally met her husband he was wearing a somber black three-piece suit, Ben Franklin glasses and a bow-tie. Me? I was just trying to keep a straight face. Just as a kiss means more when proceeded by courtship, secret swapping on the telephone has more meaning when it follows friendship.

Too often, we reserve our good manners for special occasions only, when we should be employing these traits every day of our lives.

Nothing can ruin my day quicker than a store clerk, bank teller or receptionist with a sour telephone personality. "Smile when you say that" is a tonic all of us could do well to take. Cheerfulness is a charming manifestation and extension of good manners.

Today's new technology, ideas and innovations bring with them a need for a whole new set of rituals, customs and, above all else, good manners. All this new technology in the world comes down to one thing, the need and desire for human beings to connect to one another, how we do this and where we do this may need to be reexamined by the multiude of today's cell phone users.The curtsy may be out and white gloves no longer worn for Sunday visits, but telephone courtesy, to one and all, are the small steps toward building a courteous society.

For over 14 years, Cookie Curci wrote a popular nostalgia column for The Willow Glen Resident. (The Silicon Valley Metro Newspapers...San Jose califonia) She's currently writing a column called "Looking Back" that appears monthly in FRA NOI - a Chicago based newspaper. In additon she writes for "Mature Living" in Toledo, Ohio, "Senior News" in West Virginia and THE WILLOW GLEN TIMES in San Jose. More about Cookie is at On Writing a Nostalgia Column.... If you would like to comment on an article, Cookie can be reached at

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