By Jarret Liotta

WESTPORT — When I watched this week’s online Democratic Town Committee meeting I was very disturbed.

But it wasn’t the hostile exchanges, the petty accusations, or the cold political scheming that upset me most — it was the constant text messaging that was going on adjacent to the video screen that I found most appalling.

It breaks my heart that people don’t pay attention to others. And it’s not only that — we all ACCEPT it, EXCUSE it and make regular arguments that we ARE paying attention, even though we no longer offer others — including our loved ones — 100 percent of our focus.

World Day of Remembrance

Though it sounds so utterly dramatic, many people are so deep into their virtual world that they’re literally disconnected from common reality.

It’s bad enough that just three nights ago I literally witnessed four different Westport teens in their moving vehicles with faces lit by the blue screens of their phones as they drove past, all within like 20 minutes.

It’s rotten easy to pontificate about how dangerous it is, but we’re practically numb to hearing about it anyway, so what’s the point?!

Just today, which was World Day of Remembrance, I had the unique and painful opportunity to speak with the loved ones of some local people who’ve been killed — pedestrians and bike riders — by motor vehicles in the last year or so.

If I were President I would require everyone to have an in-person talk with one of these survivors before they’re given a driver’s license.

21st Century Neglect

But there are so many other elements to this beyond the obvious (though none we want to think about) …

One of the most heartbreaking things to see — and I see it all the time — is the mother pushing her child in a stroller while enraptured by her phone.

There is it — the zenith of humankind dreams, pinnacle of storybook moments — mother and child strolling in the Great Outdoors … and while baby is awake and wide-eyed and eagerly looking out at the beautiful new natural world, mom has her head down — missing the moment to attend to some vital virtual engagement.

Cooing and engaging comments with her child are disjointed and fragmentary because she’s dealing with something more important than being present in this magical moment … Ugh!

(I’ll never be able to say it as well as Steve Cutts does in his “Mobile World” cartoon.)

Who Am I to Judge?!

Of course there are two sides to everything. Perhaps if my mother had had a cellphone to temper her angst she wouldn’t have drank as much! Then just imagine how well-adjusted I could have been!

Still, we make comforting jokes about this behavior being akin to addiction and we strive to laugh it off. Yet it absolutely is addictive behavior, and witnessing addictive behaviors of any kind — especially with people we care about — is sickening and frightening.

At this point I’m literally mourning some friendships because when I visit with these people I’m acutely aware that they’re no longer entirely present but recurring-ly pulled back into their cellphone for messaging … all the time … all the time …

Defend to the End

People engaged in it like to defend that it’s a choice, and there are myriad important reasons to justify the choice. At the end of the day, however, they sadly don’t have a choice — the phone & its illusionery world of communication — is more important than anyone in front of them.

It is the loved one! It’s the one they want to be alone with.

Others, ironically, are now a distraction because they take attention away from the phone.

And it’s beyond prevalent. That’s the scariest part — it’s a rampant addictive behavior that we as a society completely condone because it’s ubiquitous and the fallout appears to be so slight, so subtle …

That’s the Great Lie with so many addictions … Don’t make a big deal of it!

(Small wonder we’re in so much turmoil as a nation!)

So What’s Your Point, Mr. Editor?!

All this leads back to the DTC meeting.

I don’t mean to sound like a tart schoolmarm chastising little ones — and I do sympathize with these caring volunteers struggling to endure what was certainly one of the weirder meetings I’ve witnessed — but all that sideline texting just stank of immaturity and a sort of distasteful informality. (It was like some people were conducting the meeting from their toilet.)

I won’t embarrass anyone specifically, but amidst this political melee, one participant suddenly began writing comments about a soccer game. Others, who had already been allotted their time to speak, posted further comments touting their agendas while others spoke.

Deteriorating Into A Virtual World

Others engaged in random discussion of peripheral items that could have waited until later, while a few even made biting remarks about others in the meeting.

I appreciate that these are volunteer members of a group that is not even elected or technically christened to public representation (though some are elected officials).

The point is also well taken that at least it’s trying to get business done in public. We have no idea what the Republicans are even up to — besides winning elections — because they exclude the public from their town committee meetings (which I’ve been told by rumor take place is a very dark, rather dank windowless room out on an island somewhere off the coast).

But as DTC members were spouting about “process” and representing an example of transparency and inclusiveness, I think it behooves them to be a little more mindful of what actions speak.

And if not for us, then for themselves …