Suzanne Fields

Not for a long, long time have parents enforced the notion that children should be seen and not heard. All us fogies, even young ones, flinch when the kids talk at loud length on their cell phones at school, at play and in their living rooms. They turn the music up as high as it can go no matter where they are.
Let's hear it for one old fogey who has invented a little payback. An engineer in Wales, noticing that teenagers hear sound at higher pitches than older grown-ups, and weary of having to listen to loud music where teenagers congregate, has developed a tiny machine he calls the "Mosquito." The Mosquito blasts a piercing high frequency wail that sends teenagers scurrying. Adults are merely amused because the pitch is too high for their ears to pick up. At last, a weapon for civil(ity) defense.

 But the fundamental issue isn't noise, but rudeness and a dearth of manners. We've all bemoaned the culture dominated by images that exploit the ever-shrinking attention span, but we neglect to confront the sources of noise that assault the ear everywhere.

 The offenders come in all ages and races, and from every economic level. Equal opportunity cell phones ring loudly in restaurants, theaters, trains and doctors' waiting rooms.

 Sports fans once focused on the game, enjoying conversation before and after the double play or the dash off-tackle for a crucial first down, but now we're forced to endure loud thumping, wailing and screaming between innings, after touchdowns and during timeouts. No one can concentrate even for a minute without a rush of adrenalin pumped up by noise.

 Every generation finds ways to push the envelope of collective neurosis, of course. Nothing is as much fun as irritating elders, but now the Culture of Rudeness comes at us from many directions, amplified. Christopher Lasch wrote in "The Culture of Narcissism" in 1979 how modern man needed to look into the mirror to validate his sense of self. The new narcissists have replaced mirrors of reflection with the yearning to attract attention, good or bad, or to shut out everyone else to indulge the nirvana of self-absorption.

  "The self-esteem movement nascent when Lasch was writing has reached maturity," writes Christine Rosen in Policy Review, published by the Hoover Institution, "and its progeny, the children of Lasch's 1970s narcissists, are now forming their own families. Many of them embrace an increasingly egalitarian family structure, uncritically and enthusiastically use personal technologies that alter the rhythms of private life, and isolate family members from each other."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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