People talk on their cell phones everywhere. We know this. We bear this unbearable fact daily. But one of the more egregious cell-phone uses occurs at the city's countless cash registers. You've seen them. Those people who approach the counter, plop down their purchases, and say nothing to the cashier, all the while yakking to some invisible someone else while the worker silently rings up their wares.
Money changes hands. No one speaks. The consumer behaves as if they are alone in the universe. It's one of the more dehumanizing everyday experiences we can witness.
Some businesses have begun expressing their weariness of such behavior with little signs displayed on their cash registers.
Think Coffee tries the polite approach, "kindly refrain from talking on your cell phone when ordering."
Soy Luck Cafe takes another tack, trying to flip the script, "If you are on the phone at the counter we will pretend that you don't exist." (As you pretend we don't exist.)
In small, parenthetical type, they add, "It's a beautiful world all around you. Be a part of it."
Awhile back, Ken Belson wrote about sidewalk cellphone use in the Times, "cellphone walkers are less likely to help a stranger in need, for instance, or to exchange pleasantries with passers-by. They are effectively cutting themselves off from the random encounters in public spaces that used to invigorate city living."
In Sherry Turkle's new book Alone Together, she complains "that the sight at a local cafe of people focused on their computers and smartphones as they drink their coffee bothers her: 'These people are not my friends,' she writes, 'yet somehow I miss their presence.'" In the Times review, Kakutani called this "primly sanctimonious...sentimental whining," but it's a profound statement. I know how Turkle feels. We have lost people to these devices.
As we lose humans to technology, we also lose a piece of our humanity.