Civil Inattention in the Era of ZOOM/and Book giveaway

I practiced civil inattention long before I knew what it was called. For instance: as a kid growing up in Philly, I took public transportation a lot and regularly pretended the person sitting next to me wasn’t picking their nose/crying/talking to themselves. For instance: as a young woman fresh out of college and living in San Francisco, I regularly pretended not to hear my upstairs neighbors arguing or see my next-door neighbor, whose bedroom window was directly across from mine, walking around in her underwear. (Who knows what she saw me doing?) For Instance: in my current neighborhood our backyards all butt right up next to each other, and, because we live in such temperate weather here on the Monterey Coast, spring, summer, and fall we all pretty much live in our backyards, so life is a constant exercise in civil inattention—for all of us. (For privacy reasons, I won’t say more.) Sure, there are times when civil inattention must be breached. A frantically barking dog might warrant a text message. Could you put the dog in? Or a loud bang. Everything okay over there? But mostly we just pretend not to hear what we hear. I mean, how rude to say, “Boy, you guys sure got wasted last night.” Or maybe, “Have you ever tried Gas-X?”

For sure, some people abuse the civility of others. Pre-pandemic, I was on a transporter from long-term parking to the airport where a guy was arguing with his girlfriend on his cellphone. We all just sat there pretending not to hear him ranting at her about some important dinner that she’d missed. “I did too tell you!” he spat. “And you said you’d be there!” Cell phone etiquette, don’t get me started.

But what about ZOOM where we’re now all of us in each other’s homes? Is it okay for, say, a yoga teacher to comment on someone’s décor? Or for a business associate to notice your kid walk through and say, “Why isn’t he in school?” Or, “A sweater? Really? Wouldn’t it just be easier to turn your air conditioning down?” What’s appropriate? What’s the protocol? I think it needs to be established. Soon. Breaches are already happening.

Please weigh in. And by weighing in you’ll be eligible to win an e-book of one of my novels. Your choice.

So, that’s it for today. Remember: Live the love. It’s all we’ve got.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash


  1. Décor in particular can be a useful conversation starter. ‘Hey, who’s the woman in the picture behind you?’ ‘That’s my godmother, who was a freelance arts producer and all-round amazing person.’ And so on.

    Generally, though, I think it behoves all of us to a) move our own dirty laundry basket out of view of the camera; and b) not comment on the other person’s dirty laundry basket. At least it suggests that we’re still doing laundry, right?

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  2. I don’t know about some of these, but a virtual background is a good thing. I’m attempting to substitute teach on Zoom and it is much more private to have that up.

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  3. unless you’re sitting still, you go in and out of virtual backgrounds and it’s too distracting, as for comments, I’m fine with that – what’s that?, who’s that?, nice pic, great set up – all fine. I wouldn’t appreciate anything judgmental though – shouldn’t your kid be in school, probably not your business 🙂

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  4. Use old fashioned “with the preacher in the parlor” rules; don’t bring up subjects you don’t want talked about you ie., your bad hair, wrinkled clothes, etc. Don’t gossip or speak disparagingly about anyone or thing, or register complaints that have no solution. Or as my Navajo neighbors would say “Walk in Beauty, Seeing Only those things which are Blessings and bring Harmony”!

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  5. The calls I’ve been on usually involve someone’s garden or it’s a virtual party, so comments are welcome. Since my knowledge of plant names is very basic, my questions are usually ‘What’s that? it’s purple and it’s pretty!”

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  6. I think it would depend a great deal as to the nature of the relationship, and the nature of the ‘call’. It can be a dangerous thing to a relationship(of any kind), offering unsolicited advice or comments especially, if they are not perceived as kind.

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  7. I’m appreciating elements of the personal Zoom – Sharing World Whisky Day with our best friends 3hrs away….World Gin Day with the same crew…A dinner party just last weekend! No judgement there… this weekend we’re joining friends with a murder party! Covid and Zoom work. No room for judgey…..We all need to lose the judgey!

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