The XX Factor

BlackBerries Aren’t Just Rude. They’re Ruining the Art of Conversation.

Emily, you brought up BlackBerry etiquette yesterday, after Tom Golisano got mad at New York State Senate majority leader Malcolm Smith for rude usage of his. I’m continually astounded by the blatant disregard with which people whip out their devices and start multitasking in situations where full attention is obviously what etiquette demands. Or what safety demands-too often I’ve been the backseat witness to the unnerving practice of BlackBerrying while driving. I don’t care that your BlackBerry has a map. Either pull over to check it, or have the passenger navigate, just like in the old days of paper maps.

But for the most part, it seems like even those guilty of succumbing to BlackBerry’s pull toward constant communication, like Emily and Inci admit to being, realize and feel guilty about their breach of etiquette. The hazier question, I’ve found, is what’s appropriate regarding smartphones’ pull toward constant information. Too many conversations in the past year have been cut off by someone deftly tapping an iPhone or BlackBerry under the table, and pronouncing the “answer” to whatever it is we were discussing. I’m all for research and fact-finding, but I miss the days when you could spend half an hour speculating on the origin of “OK” (a president writing “oll korrect” in the margin? A word stolen from some other language? But it doesn’t sound like Latin or Greek, so what language would it be?) or wondering whether opera singers tend to be fat because being fat makes it easier to sing well (or maybe something about the profession makes people gain weight? Or maybe opera singers aren’t actually any fatter, as a group, it’s just that a few key famous ones are?) without some fancy phone putting an end to your musings. Good conversations depend, at times, on some degree of ignorance and mutual discovery-piecing together theories and ideas from conversants’ collective knowledge. When the person with the fanciest phone suddenly puts all the answers on the table, it strips away much of the art-and fun-of the activity.

So I say, checking your e-mail obsessively isn’t the only BlackBerry crime. Incessant Googling, even to answer a question someone across from you just posed, has its drawbacks, too.