These days I am on my very best behavior whenever I leave the house. If I am wearing pantyhose, I double check to ensure there is no laughable bagging at the ankles. I drive as thoughtfully as if Iím being tested for a license, a DMV official sitting in the passenger seat. I wonít even allow myself to grimace or honk when another driver is blocking my path, taking ten minutes to parallel park single-handedly because her other hand has a death-grip on a cell phone, which she is using to make a manicure appointment. If I must sneeze, I hide in a secure location before honking into a tissue.
My kids have noticed my paranoia in public. “Why are you looking all around, Mom?” they have asked.
“You canít be too careful,” I said. “Every single person around us is hiding one of those diabolical cell phone cameras. They have such empty lives that they are just lying in wait to catch somebody doing something stupid or embarrassing. Then theyíll put it on YouTube and a million people will see the dumb thing you did. Iím not taking any chances.”
“I hate to break it to you Mom,” answered one kid. “I donít think anyone is interested in filming you redoing your lipstick for a YouTube video. I mean, youíre not interesting enough.”
“Oh yeah? Iíve seen some real yawners on YouTube,” I said. “Donít count me out so quickly.”
I admit, I donít always mind these “gotcha!” videos of people in embarrassing moments. Under certain circumstances, I am all for public shaming. For example, I salute the ingenuity of the man who put up a web site where he posts photos of cars and license plate numbers of people who hog two parking spots in the company parking lot. And I take secret pleasure in exquisitely timed photos of politicians with their fingers in their noses, or looking in some other way ridiculous. Shedding light on bad behavior can rouse the sleepy conscience, which is generally a good thing.
But what about the poor guy who has already endured a bad day at work and then lost his temper at an incompetent store clerk? What about the woman whose only crime had been a terrible judgment error at the hairdresser? Do they deserve to have their images uploaded onto the Internet for all the world to see?
None of this is new, of course. Allen Funt pioneered the art of catching people during unguarded moments back in the 1940s with “Candid Camera.” But thereís a difference. On “Candid Camera” people are set up in staged situations, such as riding in an elevator that goes sideways. And they must give permission before they enjoy their fifteen minutes of fame. They are not framed, quite literally, on camera while tripping on a sidewalk or spilling coffee on themselves.
Now we are a nation of Allen Funts, or, perhaps better yet, KGB agents. This canít be a good thing. I was already a courteous driver, letting other drivers into my lane (except for the ones who knew they needed to make a lane change but waited to the very last minute to butt in). I never yell at store clerks, especially when writing to management is so much more effective. But I am just as likely as the next chump to have a mishap or a quizzical expression that will render me absurd at precisely the moment when some underemployed buttinsky captures it on his phone camera. Besides, what if the camera makes me look fat as well as ridiculous? I was not ready for that close-up, Mr. DeMille!
This is just another layer of cell phone tyranny. Cameras aside, I canít even distinguishing any longer between the average lunatic on the street, ranting and gesticulating to imaginary enemies, and the regular businessperson negotiating a deal, ranting and gesticulating about deliverables and costs into an invisible Bluetooth device. I suggest that the Bluetooth-users wear big buttons on their lapels that say, in capital letters, “IíM NOT CRAZY, IíM JUST ON THE PHONE!”
And speaking of crazy, can we please outlaw cell phones at funerals? I actually witnessed this and was not the only mourner in attendance who suddenly had the idea of making it a double burial.
My best defense against cell phone blather and would-be Steven Spielbergs may be to become a hermit. Like a Hollywood star, Iíd make visitors relinquish their cell phones at the door, and have my groceries delivered. It may sound drastic, but itís better than having a stranger email you and say, “Smile! Youíre on candid cell phone camera!”
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