Oh, how I miss decorum. How I miss that elegant little communal agreement we once had that certain matters were meant to remain strictly private. It was like that once, wasn’t it? Was it all a dream? Does my memory fail me? Or do I correctly recall a golden past when we kept our voices down in public, were taught not to stare, and when no civilized person would even dream of discussing things like their medical conditions, family squabbles, or, heaven forfend, their sex lives within earshot of strangers?
Watch an old movie or TV show. There were entire plot points built around the avoidance of the embarrassment—or even shame (dear God how I miss shame)—of accidentally broadcasting personal information in front of others.
My, how society has progressed from those stuffy constraints of consideration. We’re certainly free from them now. When was the last time you heard, “Sir—please—there are children present” or “We’ll discuss it when we get home” or “Lower your voice; you’re embarrassing me”?
Well, that used to be the way. And it’s still the right way. Your Curmudgeon doesn’t believe we should ever lower the bar to accommodate the erosion of behavior (coughtrumpcough . . . excuse me). As far as I’m concerned, even those social niceties that have all but disappeared remain, nonetheless, immutable standards. It’s how we should behave, whether anyone does it or not.
If the “oversharing” trend was already in place, public cell phone use has pushed it over the edge. Nowadays, it’s barely shocking to hear someone walking along the street talking loudly about a recent ugly breakup, or a mysterious infection, or financial troubles, or . . . well, just about anything.
“And the lady was like, ‘I’m going to get you fired.’ And I’m like, ‘Bitch. Try it.’”
“I wasn’t with her! We’re just friends! . . . Well, that whore is lying!”
“This fucking motherfucker was fucked up as shit . . .”
“So they said it’s like hemorrhoids or something, they don’t know yet . . .”
“I know the check bounced, but see, I’m still waiting for the bank to transfer my funds . . . “
“I was, like, puking everywhere. And you know, it’s hard to get that shit out . . . ”
“Oh yeah, we found a lot of dirt. Like, first of all, he’s got a criminal record . . . No, not Myron. Ralph . . . Yes of course I mean Ralph Foster. Who else?”
You know . . . I really, really don’t want to know this stuff. It’s not something people outside of one’s closest circle should ever know. I mean, for the love of all that is decent, the thought that a stranger might overhear such recklessly ill-considered revelations should be nothing short of mortifying to the oblivious babbler. The fact that it isn’t dismays me to no end.
But I’ve been quite tame in my examples out of respect for my more delicate readers. You may trust me when I tell you that things I’ve overheard on the streets of New York City, and on line waiting to purchase groceries, and on public transportation, and at coffee shops are not fit to print. Let it suffice to say that I know more about my fellow citizens than I ever needed to, including, in some cases, their names and phone numbers.
And would you believe it? I’ve occasionally heard people slowly and clearly providing their addresses and credit card numbers. In public. Citizens, even if you don’t care a fig for decorum, that information really should be kept private. If I were feeling devious, I could easily buy a couple of rare antiques with a stranger’s money and have them sent to his home . . . just to prove a point.
But even beyond protecting oneself from a curmudgeon’s pranks, one really ought to give some thought to protecting others from having to learn to the intimate details of one’s life. It all comes back to the Curmudgeon’s oft-repeated maxim: there are other people in the world besides you. And the rest of us—the people who are not you—would very much appreciate it if you’d keep your personal information to yourself. Hold on—it’s my urologist calling. I need to take this.