Readers, take thirty seconds to read this Craigslist posting, published by an apparently frustrated New York City restaurant owner. (Also here.)
There's so much to say about this posting, starting with the fact that it's possibly not entirely true. Sometimes, though, things that aren't entirely true tend to resemble the truth far more than things that actually happen. (Which is why newsroom editors tell idealistic young reporters to "save the truth for your novel!")
Thus there's a reason why this Craigslist posting resonated with people as much as it did: it shows something true, deeply true, about us as modern customers: We've become needier, more distracted, more annoying, more oblivious, and less and less present than ever. Here's what I mean:
1) We pay little to no attention to reality. Look across any random sample of people today--at restaurants, while shopping, walking down the street, wherever--and you'll see a staggering percentage of them staring or texting into their phones.
2) We're never happy enough with what comes our way. Examples: customers nitpicking about where they sit, getting up and changing tables, micro-managing their food orders, sending their food back.
3) We need to be led, behaviorally speaking, to perform basic tasks, like putting down our phone and opening a menu. And then, later, we apparently need to be led once again to choose something from that menu.
4) We need to make everything we do into some form of conspicuous display.* This helps explain peoples' neurotic need to post photos of their food, or their need to share photographic proof of conspicuous leisure activities over social media. More on this in just a minute.
5) We no longer seem to be "here" anymore. Instead of being present in the here and now, our attention is elsewhere. We're anywhere but where we are.
Another word or two about conspicuous display. It's not just that people seem less and less "here" in the psychological sense. It's that they also need all the cool things they're doing to be seen by people who aren't even physically here with them either. Social media was created to fulfill this need to be seen, and it does it so well that it's almost as if an experience doesn't count--or perhaps never even happened--unless there's some meta-representation of it online.
Look, it's a free country, and the last thing I want is for this post to sound like some "kids these days!" rant. Come to think of it, it can't be a kids these days rant when people of my own demographic are among the worst offenders. But is that little glowing rectangle really that interesting? Is blarfing out our lives online really so important that it's worth interfering with reality to do so?
Readers, what do you think?
* See Thorstein Veblen's difficult but mind-bending book The Theory of the Leisure Class, particularly Chapter 3, "Conspicuous Leisure" and Chapter 4, "Conspicuous Consumption" for more here. For a book written in 1899, it's astonishing how predictive it is of modern consumerism and modern identity construction.
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