An Open Letter to Cell Phone Owners about Etiquette

Dear Cell Phone Owners,

I am definitely not an etiquette instructor. Heck, I’m about to give advice that even I don’t always follow! But I do think that the way we use cell phones is kind of atrocious and discourteous.  Cell phone use has become convoluted and we need to change our habits. What I’m about to say, you probably already know. But I think it’s definitely time for a reminder. So I’m just going to tell you about what you probably already know about the difference between what cell phone use should be and what it actually is.

What Cell Phone Use Should Be:
Cell phones, and especially smart phones, are super great at giving us information. They connect us with other people, and in the case of smartphones, with a vast network of all other kinds of information. They are capable of entertaining us, getting us where we need to go, and keeping us in touch with the people we love.
Based on this, cell phones should be used for three main purposes:

1) Connecting us with someone else. If you want to get together with your friend next week, text or call them and ask them to go to a movie with you! Are you meeting at the mall and can’t find the other person? Your cell phone is a magical tool that will let you discover where they are. Are you going to be late? Call ahead to let people know (20 years ago, if you showed up to something really late, people probably just gave up and left without you. Thank goodness for cell phones!). Is your mother suddenly ill and in the hospital? Your dad is able to let you know, no matter where you are, by calling you on your cell phone!
2) Entertainment. If you are meeting someone at the movies, and they are very very late, the good news is, you don’t have to sit there, completely bored, and inspect your fingernails. You can take out your phone, text and ask them where they are, check Facebook, or look like an idiot by laughing out loud in a public space at funny videos on your phone. All of these are now options thanks to your cell phone. Similarly, if you’re lying in bed, and you’re too lazy to get up and start up your laptop, you can check your email or browse Reddit from under your comfortable duvet. And when you’re hanging out with friends, you can always capture the event by snapping a quick round of selfies to send out on SnapChat.
3) Information. Are you completely lost trying to find the obscure movie theatre your friend chose? Good news! Google is just a click away. Similarly, if you and your friend are having a debate about the name of an actor or actress in a particular film, IMDB can clear that up for you in a second. If you want to make chili, but you’ve forgotten step 3 of the recipe midway through cooking, your cell phone will let you know immediately.

In my humble opinion, these are all acceptable uses of cell phones. There’s no reason you shouldn’t take advantage of the handy gadget you have on hand. After all, you paid 300 dollars for it, and you’re paying 70 bucks a month to keep it running. And I know that none of you out there are disagreeing with me. Cell phones are great, and have changed how we think, connect, and access information. Nobody’s arguing over that. The thing we might disagree on is when not to use your cell phones…

What Cell Phone Use Shouldn’t Be (But Often Is)
I’m going to start this section off with a little story. I was once hanging out with two friends. One of the friends said to the other: “Hang on a second, don’t say anything, I’m going to send a text.” The conversation paused while this friend sent her text, and then when she was done, she said “Ok, go ahead! I never text while people are talking to me, because I know that I can’t text and listen at the same time.” The very next day, I was hanging out with this friend again, and we were having a serious discussion. As I was telling her my feelings on something, she whipped out her phone and sent a text message, while murmuring “mmhm, mhmm” in response to what I was saying. I was deeply insulted. I had been there the previous day. I had heard this friend tell someone else that she couldn’t listen and text at the same time. For her to then pull out her phone while I was speaking was the ultimate way of saying “What you are saying is not interesting or important to me.”
The thing is, I wouldn’t have needed the first part of this story to have felt annoyed. It added salt to the wound that I had heard her say something about listening and texting previously, but even without that knowledge, I would still have felt ignored. People are very good at reading other people, and they can tell when you’re paying attention. Turning to your phone or staring at a hot lady going by are the same thing: they are obvious signs that your attention is elsewhere, and it’s very easy to tell that you are no longer listening.
I am the first person to admit that I am guilty of texting and “listening”. I was a chronic texter for years. I had the art of texting without looking down pat. I could look you dead in the eyes while pounding out a message on my phone. And I couldn’t be stopped from making sure that my multiple conversations were attended to. It wasn’t until I spent several months without a phone that I got over my reliance on having texting conversations. And it wasn’t until I got sick of being ignored by other people that I realized that texting when someone else is talking is a horribly rude thing to do (although I am still occasionally guilty of doing it).

This is what cell phone use shouldn’t be:
1) Something to do while “listening” to other people. No matter how you justify it, talking and texting (or checking your phone for messages) aren’t OK. Attentional studies in psychology have shown that people aren’t nearly as good at multi-tasking as they claim to be/think they are. Reading and writing texts requires visual, motor, and cognitive attention. There’s a reason they tell you not to text while driving. You can’t attend to the road and your phone at once. And if you can’t handle a complex task like driving while texting, what makes you think you can handle the complex task of listening to another person, and developing interesting and informed responses, while texting. Besides which, everyone knows you can’t text and listen at the same time. When you turn away from someone who’s talking to stare at a small screen and type out a message, that person feels ignored. I don’t think anyone is thinking “Oh, it’s OK, she can listen and text at the same time.” More likely, they are probably thinking “I must be really boring this person.” If you must text, wait until it is yourturn to talk and then say,” hang on three seconds, I need to text my dying grandmother, it’s urgent.” And please please please, don’t provide a running commentary on what other people are texting you. Unless your mutual BFF  just got engaged, it’s not nearly as interesting/funny as you think it is.
2) A way to stay constantly plugged in. Unless you are employed to run social media for a company, and you need to check in on a PR disaster happening on Twitter, you don’t need to be plugged into social media at all times. If you’re hanging out with friends, don’t check Facebook. Don’t update Twitter. Don’t browse Instagram (unless you’re posting selfies of all of you together, with the hastag: #reunion!). Social media isn’t going to provide interesting conversation to the other people, and the 5 likes on your status will still be there when you come back after seeing your friends.
3) A form of making things entertaining. I actually don’t mind YouTube parties much (they can be entertaining), but it does get on my nerves when it seems like the only way to have a good conversation with somebody is to mutually browse the Internet until one of you finds something interesting. Yes, Reddit is a great source of some hilarious and interesting material, but if you can’t be around each other for an hour without looking up and sharing half a dozen cat photos, then you either need to rethink your friendship or find something else to do  (the movies? Mini-golf? Bowling? Skinny dipping? the options are endless people!). It’s one thing to be hanging out in that sort of casual way where you’re each supposed to be studying, but one of you is actually browsing and sharing hilarious Reddit links. It’s another thing to be actively making a point of spending time with someone, and turning to find that person looking blankly at their screen. At that moment, you feel inadequate, so you pull out your screen to stare blankly at too. And then every once in a while, one of you laughs and shares something mildly amusing. That’s not real interaction. Please, if you’re going to hang out, keep Reddit/9Gag/StumbleUpon/YouTube in your pocket.

In Conclusion
All the misuses I’ve pointed out are things that I’m personally guilty of. Cell phones have become a sort of social crutch that we lean on to save us from ourselves. It’s all too easy to pull out your cell phone when you blank on something to say. And the instant one person get out their cell, we all feel the need to follow suit. But it doesn’t have to be this way. A little bit of practice and self-discipline, and you can learn how to have a conversation without reaching into your pocket. People have been doing it for centuries, so we know it’s possible. There is hope for human interaction.

As for my little list of 3, I don’t think I’ve even come close to naming all the inappropriate uses of cell phones.  These are just the ones that immediately come to mind as annoying/rude. I’ve steered clear of cases where it’s unsafe to use cell phones (ie. texting while walking) to focus on just the cases where it’s rude. This is about etiquette after all. If you think of any other rude misuses I’ve missed, let me know. Everyone deserves to exist in a world where conversations exist cell phone free!

An Open Letter to Hollywood About Women in Films

Dear Hollywood,

I went to watch American Hustle with my boyfriend last week. I was really really excited to see the movie. It was going to be a delicious romp through the 1970s, a story of intrigue and crime, all set in a time period where the hair, dress, and home decor styles were so baffling that they are hilarious to look at. Alas, I came out of the movie really disappointed. To be fair to the movie, whenever I go to see movies in theatres, I get bored. So it was at a disadvantage. However, the two parts that I really disliked were, in my opinion, completely avoidable. Those two main things were a) the love triangle between Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Christian Bale, and b) the male leads.

Love and Relationships
I love Jennifer Lawrence. I love Amy Adams. And I loved both their characters. I don’t want to spoil too much, but Jennifer Lawrence was crazy, and Amy Adams was crazy strong. Their characters were entertaining to watch. So why all the fuss? Why was I so annoyed? Well, even though American Hustle probably didn’t fail the Bechdel test (if I remember correctly, Jennifer Lawrence’s character had a conversation with Elisabeth Rohm’s character about nail polish), it still adhered to what seems to be Hollywood’s number one policy: Women can’t be interesting unless they’re in love/a relationship with a man. In this case, two women, fighting over one not-so-attractive man (sorry, Christian Bale. It was the weird combover). It really hit me when the two meet in the bathroom and have a hissy fit. The two main females meet up once for the whole movie, and fight like cats over a man. Ugh.

When I say that women are portrayed as being in love/a relationship, I want to be clear that this phenomenon exists FAR beyond the reaches of chick flicks. In fact, a chick flick/romcom might be the only type of movie where a female in love/a relationship isnecessary. I mean, that’s the point of a chick flick, right? As “porn for women”, chick flicks show women in a relationship with the ideal man. That’s the point. Fine. I get it, I like chick flicks, I accept the need for relationship drama. What gets me is most other genres of movie. I can’t speak for horror, because I don’t watch horror movies, and ditto for Westerns, but when it comes to action movies, fantasy movies, and a lot of dramas, women get typecasted: in love with the main character/dating the main character/married to the main character.

Take Man of Steel, for instance. Yes, there is the Lois Lane/Superman love thing going on. But I want to focus on something smaller. At the end of the movie, the army man asks the army lady “What are you smiling about?” as Superman flies away. She says something along the lines of “Nothing, sir.” And when he continues to stare at her, she adds, “Well, I just think he’s kind of hot.” I hated that line. There are basically NO lines for females in that entire movie, except Lois Lane and the smug evil sidekick to General Zod. But when they did give a woman the chance to talk, a woman who seems to be a fairly important person in the army, all she can say is some ditzy line about Superman’s looks? Why!?

50% of the population is female. Women go to the movies too, and not just to see chick flicks. I saw the Hobbit in theatres recently. Now, Tolkein’s casts are always pretty predominantly male, so no surprises that the main characters of the Hobbit were one (male) hobbit and 13 (male) dwarves. What’s frustrating to me is that Peter Jackson decided that in order to make more money extend the Hobbit into three movies, he was going to have to write some fan fiction. So he introduced a new female character, one who’s really skilled at killing orcs. But as the only major female character to appear, she’s also a part of a love triangle between a dwarf and an elf. Because what else to women do, other than fall in love? How else can a woman possibly be interesting on screen? How could any woman in the audience relate to her unless she’s in love with someone?

A Plethora of Male Leads
And then there’s our second problem. American Hustle was, in spite of it’s two female main characters, still a movie about men in a men’s world. Pretty much all the characters outside of Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams were men. Congressmen, lawyers, policemen, hustlers, men men men men men. Seriously. It was a man’s world.

I looked through some lists of the top movies of 2013, and can confidently say that in all of the lists, the majority of the films’ main characters were men. Of the others, most either featured male-female lead duos, or in some cases, male-female-male trios and even male-female-male-male quartets (Looking at you, Now You See Me). Notable exceptions to this rule in 2013 include Blue Jasmine, Catching Fire, and Gravity. But even Catching Fire features a love triangle (although to be fair, that also exists in the books).

I know that a lot of women wanted to see American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyer’s Club, and the Wolf of Wall Street, in spite of the male main characters. And I know a bunch of men who wanted to see Catching Fire and Gravity, even though it featured women as the main characters. The problem is not that women are boring. It’s that Hollywood is a man’s club. You have too many male producers, executives, directors and writers. There are women out there, and they do their jobs very well, but it’s pretty clear that Hollywood is overrun by men. And that should change. Shockingly, women having interesting lives and stories too! And even though they often fall in love and get married (although, here is a shocking fact: men and women get married just as often! Surprise!), their lives aren’t limited to that fact, just like the male leads of many movies have stories that don’t exclusively involve love and relationships.

I would declare a boycott or something but I don’t have that kind of influence. So consider this my letter to you, Hollywood’s filmmakers. You have the power, for now. You make the films, and we just dish out the cash to come see them. But as entertaining as guys are, I want to see more movies about women! More specifically, I want to see interesting women. Women who don’t spend all their timing whining about men, or flirting with men, or fighting over men. And I don’t want to see one or two movies a year that depict entertaining ladies. I want a more even split. Let’s have more movies like Gravity and Catching Fire. I think you might be surprised to find that people want to see those kinds of movies too. You might even make even more money!


A Woman Who Occasionally Does Things Not Involving Men

I Want to Watch a Man Cleaning the Kitchen on TV

Have you ever noticed that women are the people selling us cleaning supplies? In a world where women are supposed to be equals with men, advertisers still choose only housewives as their spokespeople to sell us everything from dish detergent to super sponges. And this phenomenon is not limited to cleaning supplies. Every commercial that wants to sell cooking, cleaning or washing supplies features a motherly figure slaving away over delicious meals, fresh laundry, or sparkling toilets.

What is the deal with that? Why do retailers create commercials that reinforce gender roles? In our ‘modern’ society, why do marketers continue to portray women as housewives?

Look, I know that advertisers are trying to make money. And the truth is: women are still the primary purchasers of household goods such as food and cleaning supplies. So advertisers know that to sell products, they have to target the buyer: women! Seems logical. I can’t hold it against marketers for doing their jobs.

BUT I do have a couple of issues with the tactics they use. First, I would argue that portraying women in traditional cleaning roles reinforces those roles. I feel that as long as the media continues to establish and portray norms in which men go to work and come home to a meal on the table, or women are continually shown as being the tub scrubbers of society, that will continue to be considered normal.. Seeing women as the only people who cook and clean in advertising reinforces the idea that these are women’s tasks, an idea that supposedly died years ago when women fought for the right to equality.  Our society can’t claim to have moved above and beyond sexism and traditional gender roles if marketers continue to portray women in those roles. The advertisers might argue that their commercials are a reflection of the way things currently are, but I think that their advertisements do more than reflect. I think they have the power to subconsciously influence our ideas about how things should be. After all, isn’t that the point of advertising? To sell us an ideal life, brought to us by their amazing products? If the marketer’s idea of an ideal life includes women slaving away to cook and clean, then count me out. Sell me your product in a world I want to live in. Which, by the way, is not a world where I have to do all the household chores (even if your product lets me get them done ten times faster).

Which brings me to my second issue: women may be the primary purchasers, but they don’t have to be portrayed as the primary cleaners/cooks/doers of laundry as well. The role of buying products does not necessitate using them. A clever advertiser might consider showing a woman walking into her house and handing her husband the leading brand of dish detergent, so that he can load the dishwasher. Or a woman could be shown commenting on how good the clothing her husband just washed smells, to which he responds: “It’s that new detergent you bought.” It’s a bit of a tricky thing: the woman has to be shown as the deliverer, not the fetcher. She’s the one with the buying power, not the errand runner for the man. But when done correctly, I think that an advertiser can (and should!) subvert traditional gender roles while still (successfully) marketing to the people with the purchasing power (women).

After all ladies, wouldn’t you buy food and detergent from a good looking man who cooks and then does the dishes afterwards?

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

I think the debate over Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays is an interesting one.

On one side, you have the major corporations that insist that their employees do not wish customers a Merry Christmas and stick instead to Happy Holidays. As someone working in a small low key cafe, and having never been forced by my boss to say anything about the holidays at all to anyone, I have never once been told off by a customer for wishing someone a Merry Christmas. Most people smile and say it in return. Granted, I’ve never served someone visibly of another faith at the cafe. But if I did, I’d like to think they would understand that I wasn’t trying to offend them or force my religion on them. Heck, if a Jewish person wished me a Happy Hanukkah, I’d be thrilled. Now, that might just be because it’s never happened to me before. Who knows, maybe being wished a Merry Christmas a million times gets old after a while. But to me, it feels like wishing a Merry Christmas to someone whodoesn’t celebrate Christmas is basically wishing them a very pleasant 25th of December. (This opinion is not based on experience, so please, correct me if I’m wrong).

The other side is one I basically didn’t know existed until I read this flow chart by Rachel Held Evans, and then made the mistake of diving into the comments. I was really surprised to read that some American Christians genuinely think that being forced to say or hear the words “Happy Holidays” is a form of attack or persecution. I mean, isn’t that a bit extreme, considering the forms of persecution other people are facing around the world? Is a person failing to verbally acknowledge your holiday really a form of attack? When you think about it, doesn’t it sound a bit silly?

But that isn’t my biggest qualm with the “persecuted” Christians. No, I think that if you want to claim that a holiday dedicated to Christ is being attacked, then you need to go past the greetings and acknowledge that Christians lost control of Christmas long before it turned into the Holidays. Christmas has become consumerism central. The marketers are still tugging at our heart strings with their warm and fuzzy commercials, but the holiday has lost the war with capitalism and has turned into a bit of a greed fest. Going to the mall between December 21 and 24th is a exercise in patience as we wade through crowds of people all rushing to purchase last minute gifts for their  loved ones. Putting the Christ back in Christmas has less to do with what your cashier says to you as you check out, and more to do with what she’s checking out for you.

This may seem a bit harsh. After all, Christmas is all about giving, right? But we’ve stopped thinking of giving in the right way. I don’t know where the tradition of giving gifts originated but it’s a nice thought that Christians give gifts just as God gave us his Son. But where God gave his Son while asking for nothing but faith in return (and knowing we would fail at even that), we rarely give out gifts without (secretly) anticipating something back. Imagine putting gifts under the tree for everyone in your family, and waking up Christmas morning to find that no one had bought you anything in return. You would be outraged. We all would be. The expectation at Christmas is both to give and receive gifts. It’s all part of the “spirit of Christmas”. But it’s evident that our giving spirit extends less to those who can’t give in return. Sure the Salvation Army bells guilt us into dropping our money into their pots. But that giving is often limited and reluctant. We would never give as much to people we don’t know who will never repay us as we would to our own flesh and blood, who both love us and present us with gifts in return.

I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t give and receive gifts (I’ve got to be careful with this post or I’ll wake up tomorrow with no presents and a family of people pointing to this post as proof that they shouldn’t get me anything). I get into the giving and receiving as much as the next person. But I would also never become outraged by someone wishing me a Happy Holidays. I can acknowledge that while Christmas is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Christ (my family lights candles, reads the Bible, sings carols, and goes to Church five times in two weeks over the holidays), there is also an elements of consumerism and selfishness involved in the holidays, as we exchange gifts and fill the pockets of the retail industry. And there are millions of people who only exchange gifts without the religious aspects. Christmas is originally a Christian holiday, but everyone gets two days off work (or statutory pay) because of this “religious” holiday and I think it’s safe to say that Christians can’t jealously claim that the holidays are only for them any more.

Christmas isn’t under attack in America. It’s already been beaten. The retailers have successfully imbued the Christmas season with a sense of buying urgency, and turned the holiday into a consumerist frenzy. And the poor Christians are right in the thick of it, complaining not about the consumerism, but about the greeting they are being given as they pile their purchases up at the register. Wishing people a Happy Holidays is not the retail industry attacking Christmas, but acknowledging that the holiday has come to mean something it didn’t used to. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s time to separate the celebration of the birth of a Saviour from the celebration of the ability for the wealthy to buy and distribute gifts.

I’m aware that a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this post. And that’s OK. This post is just an exploration on my part of what I find to be a bizarre outrage on the part of American Christians. What do you think? Are you a Christian who wants to go back to Merry Christmas? Are you a non Christian who hates being wished a Merry Christmas? Or do you think the whole debate is nonsense? Let me know.

And Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays!

An Open Letter to LOUD Drunk Students

Dear students,

Sometimes you consume one or many alcoholic beverages and then you have some fun. It’s a Friday night, so you’re probably going to drink tonight. In fact, I know you’re drinking. Right now! How do I know? Because I can hear you from a block away. That screaming you’re doing? Even though it’s the dead of winter and all our doors and windows are shut, we can still hear you.

Being drunk can be fun, and if you’re responsible about it, a little alcohol can make an awkward social situation more relaxed. But while you’re drinking, try to be considerate of others. Being drunk is not an excuse to be disrespectful to other people. You shouldn’t hold your need to have a good time above other’s need for sleep. It’s possible to enjoy yourself without disturbing others, so try not yelling. You might be surprised. It’s actually possible to have fun without it!

And, just so I don’t sound like a nagging old fart, your screaming late at night poses a whole other, more serious problem. I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and the more often I hear drunk people yelling randomly late at night, the more I’m convinced it’s true. We don’t live in the safest neighbourhood. Student ghettos aren’t known for being super classy, and when you live this close to the downtown, there are bound to be sketchy characters about. I know, I was solicited by one a while back (when you think he’s going to ask for money and he asks for sex instead *shudder*). So while you’re busy making sure everyone knows that you are fully liquored and having a good time, try to move past that fuzzy nice feeling you’re having and consider the graver consequences of what you’re doing.

Have you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? He lied about a wolf attacking him so many times that eventually people stopped believing him, and when a real wolf came around, no one answered his cries for help (and he got eaten, in the traditional-before-Disney fairy tale style). When I used to hear screaming on the street late at night, I wondered if someone was being attacked. I’d rush to my window, peer outside, and try to assess if I should call the police. But over the past few years, living in the student ghetto, the sheer number of screaming drunk people have diminished my concern. Now,whenever I hear yelling late at night, rather than rushing to a window, I shake my head and share a knowing smile with the other people in the room: “Oh, those crazy drunk people!”. When I actually stop and consider it, this is actually pretty alarming. If I was to be attacked late at night, and I was calling for help, the last thing I would want is for the people who hear me to shrug off my cries as some frivolous students. I’d want people rushing to their windows and calling the police, and I’m sure you would too!

Of course, it might be a little unfair of me to blame all this noise on drunk people. Possibly, some of the yelling is coming from sober people who just don’t care about what others think. But because drinking lowers our inhibitions, loosens us up, and clouds our thinking and judgement, I’m inclined to feel that drunk people are more likely than sober people to scream. That being said, it shouldn’t matter whether you’re stone cold sober or completely wasted: the facts remain. Yelling at night is inconsiderate, and disruptive to people who don’t deserve to have you bothering them. More importantly, screaming is a form of crying wolf, and could have important negative consequences for someone genuinely being assaulted. And finally, itis possible to have fun without screaming your head off. Nobody is preventing you from having a good time. We’re just asking you to have a good time quietly.

So don’t drink and yell.

This message brought to you by a concerned (and slightly grouchy) Anna.