x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Excuse me, I have a phone call. I won't be working this week

The holiday season seems to come around earlier and earlier.

It's considered rude, they say, to check your phone when you're with someone. You're supposed to put it away on mute and just pretend it isn't there, despite the fact that you can feel it in your pocket, buzzing away with important notifications.

And of course the person you're with can hear the buzzing too, and his or her own buzzing besides, which makes it impossible for either one of you to really focus on the conversation. There are just too many urgent and timely issues to handle on the phone.

I've developed a lame half-measure. When I arrive at a meeting or a restaurant, I ostentatiously put my phone on the table, face down, as if to say, "Let me show you how important this conversation is to me. See this phone? I just turned it face down."

I don't think I'm fooling anyone, by the way.

The phone is on mute, but I can feel it vibrating through the table and so can they, and they'll probably think that it's their phone - we do spend an awful lot of time, I think, hearing a phone noise or feeling a phone buzz and saying the words: "Was that you or me?". So if we're really being honest, we desperately want the other person to check their phone, because that means that we can check our phone, too. If they do it first, it isn't rude when we do it.

We rationalise it this way: we're just doing it because, well, if you're going to check your phone, I'm going to check mine. It's not rude if we're both doing it.

This exception to the rule of good manners has a few extensions. For instance, if you get up to go to the bathroom, I'm going to check my phone. And also: if I go to the bathroom and come back to find you checking your phone, I'm allowed to sit and check mine, even if you're finished checking yours. The right to check your phone, according to the new rules of social intercourse, can be stored up and used later.

We do this to each other, even though we know it's bad manners. Despite the rudeness of the act, and the implicit insult - "You're not as interesting or captivating as the idiotic Tweet I just got from a non-friend" - we want to check our phones. We need to check our phones - it's a sad psychological compulsion — so we look for a little break, a little social cue, that it's OK to do, just for a moment.

That's what the November and December holidays are, in the large sense, to people in the entertainment business, and probably every other business, too.

Here's how it works: the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is generally considered a holiday, but if possible, most people will consider the Tuesday before it also kind of optional, work-wise, if they can. Meaning: if someone else in their immediate orbit, usually someone just a little bit more important, announces that they are taking the Tuesday before Thanksgiving off, that's sort of a version of checking a phone first. We all think to ourselves: "Well, if she's not going to be here on Tuesday, maybe we should all just take Tuesday as a travel day or whatever and designate Monday as the last day of work before Thanksgiving?"

Which is where it all breaks down. Because, honestly, what are we really going to do on that orphan Monday? Seems silly to come all the way in just for one day. And some brave soul pipes up: "Why don't we say Monday is optional, which means I'm going to leave early on the Friday before, because, you know, the holidays and everything."

And that's how we end up with people checking their phones all the time, and the entire entertainment business - and every other business, too - shutting down, going into sleep mode, about a week before it really has to.

This year, Christmas is on a Sunday, which is really bad planning, because the truth is, the 23rd is a Friday, and is a very useful work day, but no one is going to work on the 23rd, right? So we all agreed that midweek, the 21st, was the last day you can reasonably expect someone to return a phone call, but then why not just face facts and call the whole week a loss? So from Monday the 19th on, business shuts down.

And then it occurred to me: why wait until Monday to start the holiday? I left the office early last Friday. Because, really, if everything shuts down on the 23rd anyway, why bother coming in on the 21st? And why not leave early on the 16th?

See how that works? Go ahead. Check your phone. I want to check mine, too.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood.