Sunday, November 9, 2014

Signs vs. Substance

Headline in a recent  Saint Louis Today:

       Dining with your phone at the table  is a sign of bad manners

That formulation goes to the semiotic metalevel, which is uncalled-for.   Laying your cell on the table when dining with others, is in itself  bad manners, or else it is not;  it is not (or need not be) a clue to further misbehaviors. 
(Conceivably there is, empirically, in this case, some actual correlation between phone-flashing   and such other too-busy-to-care-about-you behaviors  as cutting people off in traffic, or going through the express lane with twice the number of posted items, but the article does not assert these.  It is interested purely in the etiquette of conversation and telephony.)

To make the distinction clear:   It is not, per se,  bad manners to drive any one particular marque of automobile, or to wear any given brand of clothing, or to patronize any special restaurant.  But such choices do indeed track statistically with other behaviors:  indeed, most readers could readily come up with a profile of which SUVs are driven by louts and boors, while how clad,   on their way to what deplorable eatery.

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