I’m not even sure where to start writing, I’m so stupefied by what happened tonight. I’m angry, and disgusted, and finally completely bewildered as to how I can be so out of touch with society. Do you ever feel like that? You watch a large group of people doing and saying something you find horrifying, and you feel like maybe you left your house thinking you were in a Hayley Mills movie and no one told you Michael Bay was directing?
I went to an awesome event tonight. It pulled some true startup heroes onto a panel and introduced community management and customer evangelism to a big crowd of curious people. As someone who works in that area, I was pleased to see plenty of new faces and meet some very smart, motivated people who are hungry to get involved. At one point during the event, I snuck through the back of the room to head to the restroom. I was embarrassed to be so rude and hoped that my pregnant belly might offer a silent explanation for my behavior. I needn’t have worried.
Upon my return I decided to stand, and chose a spot out of the way and in between the room where the audience sat and a wide hallway with a few empty tables in it. Not long after I got back, the speakers wrapped up their presentations and were invited to sit on a panel for audience Q & A. The MC mentioned that food was on its way and before he could explain that we would get to it as soon as the quick Q & A was over, about ten people got out of their seats and walked over to the tables as servers placed food on them. Look, I’m five months pregnant, so you don’t have to tell me twice about being desperate for chips and salsa. But I thought that was kind of rude. As the Q & A got underway, another ten people got up. And then another. Soon the large open hallway was filled with people, piling food onto their plates then standing around talking. One man sitting next to me took a phone call. Two people stood directly in front of me and began talking, and when I tapped them and said, “Excuse me” and pointed to the panel I was trying to pay attention to, they seemed rather put out and stood next to me instead to continue their conversation. There was no whispering, no murmuring, not any sign from easily more than half of the audience that had originally gathered that they were, in fact, there to hear the people on the panel.
Was it because it was a free event? Was it because the event was held in the back room of a bar? Was it because human civility has eroded so far as to become nonexistent? I have puzzled since leaving as to what could have caused such an incredible show of disrespect by so many people, and I can’t come up with anything that holds any water. I was furious when I left the event, but by the time I got home to start typing this I was just sad and tired and confused.
Have you been to professional events where people were anything but? Would you also have wanted to kick the guy on his phone in the nads? (sidebar: he introduced himself to me later as I was having a conversation, and it turns out that speaking on a cell phone in the middle of an event is as polite as he gets.) I know there’s no real solution, no answer. I guess behavior like that makes me feel a little lonely, and I’m seeking some sign of friendly life out there on the interwebs to let me know that I (and Miss Manners) are not alone.