We first noticed the phenomenon while we were having lunch at a pleasant beachfront hotel, on Amelia Island, in Florida. A young couple was having lunch at a table nearby. After they ordered their meal from the waitress, they didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the luncheon. They were both busily engaged in manipulating the electronic controls of their iPhones, eyes intently locked on emails and other incoming electronic data. We thought it odd behavior then, but hey, to each his own, right?
Since that time, we have encountered similar behavior in many venues. No two of the “head downers” – for that is what we so christened them – were of the same age, sex or any other similar characteristic. The one unifying theme with them is that they all had their head tilted down, peering intently at the small plastic rectangle in front of them.
At first, that seemed somewhat normal to us. This is, after all, the information age and most of us have some type of portable phone or device for checking emails and phone messages while we are out and about. But it was the annoying repetition of the behavior that soon began to draw our attention.
Sometimes while at lunch, even one of our companions would pull out a phone and start checking emails. We were too tactful at first to say, “Hey, what are we, chopped liver?”
Usually, the spouse of the offender would tactfully inquire, “Are you expecting a phone call from the White House, dear?” That seemed to work sometimes, but not always.
And then we started seeing these small rectangles of light pop up in darkened theaters. Moviegoers couldn’t even wait until the film ended before they checked their messages. Maybe the White House is a more active correspondent than we thought.
And now, we see the “head downers” doing their strange behavior while piloting a 2,000-pound automobile at speeds above 65 mph. That is really scary. When we encounter one of these morons, we usually get as far away from them as traffic will allow, hoping they don’t take us out with their careless and inattentive behavior. What gives with that? Even an idiot knows better than to behave like that.
We see the “head downers” everywhere now, people walking down the street, oblivious to traffic and peering intently at the small plastic rectangles in their hands. Does the White House really make that many calls?
I don’t really know what to make of the phenomenon. Is it an addiction to information? Is it pure doltish behavior? Is it social isolationism as a rebellion against too much interaction in urban centers? I wonder if farmers milking cows are checking their emails while squeezing the cow’s udders?
In any case, we are much more aware of our own information retrieval behavior now. We check for messages only when we are not driving or interacting with others. We try to limit ourselves to one peek per hour.
As for our information-addicted friends, I hope they get across streets uninjured and learn to not be so careless texting and “head downing” while driving an automobile. Don’t worry – the White House will always leave a message if the president really wants to get hold of you.