Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cell Phone Technology and New York Manners - Can We Take This Offline?

... there is no conversation that is agreeable; there is no modesty, no attention to one another. They talk very loud, very fast and altogether. If they ask you a question, before you can utter three words of your answer they will break out upon you again and talk away. - from "The Works of John Adams" Aug 23, 1774, as cited in The New York Times Were New Yorkers Always Seen as Fast-Talking and Rude?

I happened to click on one of those online support chat links last week. I was re-installing "Quicken" and had a couple of questions.

The little chat window popped up and I asked my question. Several seconds later, a reply came back.

Yasim: Hi, my name is Yasim. Thank you for contacting Quicken, please allow me a moment to read your question.

and a few seconds later,

Yasim: Hi Kate, how are you?

Me: It doesn't really matter how I am, but seeing as you ask, I am frustrated with your product!

There was a long pause. I started to time it, but became bored and clicked the 'x' to close the window.

What's with these people? What do they mean, "how are you?" Obviously you are not on top of the world if you have been forced to "talk" to a faceless someone, only possibly human, using a virtual window on a computer. Enough said!

But on reflection I felt sorry for Yasim. He or she was obviously in India and is a very nice person and the "How are you" was auto-generated, beyond his control. Still. I've lived in New York for over a decade. I had little patience even before I came here. And now I've acclimated. So you can imagine ...

New Yorkers Communicating
Yes my patience threshold is in the negative.

New Yorkers rude? I don't THINK so. We just don't have time for small-talk.

In fact, real New Yorkers don't have time for ANY talk, other than their own.

Take my New York friend Stella. She called me the other day on my home phone. I'd just walked in the door and was coughing and sneezing and feeling quite unwell.

After listening to her for 20 minutes I said, "I'm sorry, but I am feeing quite unwell. Can we take this off-line?"

"Can we take this off-line?" is New-York-speak for "I don't want to listen to this anymore".

But Stella hadn't heard me, or if she had, it hadn't registered, and she kept on with a soliloquy worthy of Hamlet in its length.

"Maybe if I died she'd notice and stop" I was thinking, when there was a pause. If you wait long enough, even a New Yorker will run out of breath. "I am feeling really ill; I need to go to bed!" I croaked. And was heard. There is a god after all I thought as I collapsed on the sofa.

Color-coordinated New Yorker on Cell Phone
When I first came to New York I was intrigued with how New Yorkers, when they called, would when you picked up start rattling on with whatever thoughts were in their mind. I'd spend minutes trying to decipher what appeared to be streams of consciousness which would make James Joyce appear succinct.

Eventually I'd but in with, "Who IS this?"

Inevitably the response would come back, "It's me!"

Technology has cured many ills and improved our quality of life no end. We had Guttenberg and his printing press, the spinning jenny revolutionizing the fabric industry. Dr Salk and his polio vaccine. And for the past several years, smart phones and their visual caller-id function.

Life is good. No longer need we ask, "Who are you?"

There it is, the caller's name clearly pixelled on one's iPhone or Android cell phone.

Yep, technology has an answer for everything. Or if it hasn't, it's only a matter of time.

Just ask any New Yorker.

But be quick about it.


Vanessa said...

Great article.

True so true.

and people wonder why we screen our calls?

Anonymous said...

Boy have you struck a chord with this NY Diary.
Because of my advanced age and diminished hearing (I hate to wear the hearing aids) I have developed a little more patience than I had in my 'mid years'. However comma People who call and immediately launch into a conversation without identifying themselves drive me coo coo. And it seems like a Middle West thing but now you say it's also a New York habit. Also, I have many friends with the same name and, "It's Jim" or "Bob" or Dinglefritz doesn't hack it. Fer chrissakes, gimmee your name. When even your kids sound alike over the phone, you know you need help. Thank god for caller ID, but then there's the 'blockers' Bugger 'em. I need help.
And don't get me started about the art of conversation. There's very little left. S'all about "Me, me, me". An exception: I was treadmilling this morning at the gym and had a most delightful conversation with a history scholar. Deee-lightful. An actual two way conversation between an utlta conservative and a somewhat liberal ex-pat.
Ah well, life goes on.

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