Buzz Killers

Tech toys are great. It's the people who don't know when to put them away that suck.


WHEN BOBO THE VILLAGE ASSHOLE DRAGGED his skis into Steamboat’s Gondola Square, throngs of frightened tourists fled like field mice before the thresher. Six foot two, thick of neck, and soft of waist, he was Tony Soprano in rear-entry boots. Clearly deranged, he unleashed a string of obscenities into the air, the likes of which I hadn’t heard since I’d worked in an Italian-sausage factory as a youth. Instinctively, I pushed my son, Little Dude, behind me and gripped my skis, in case circumstances required I deliver a death blow to the goon.

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It was then that I noticed Bobo was wearing a Bluetooth earpiece and the object of his tirade was evidently his wife, who’d made the grave error of parking at the wrong pickup zone. I could only hope she’d watched enough CSI to dispose of his body cleanly.

Cell phones on the chairlift are bad enough—I don’t want to hear about what you did last night with Cialis and a Red Bull. But Bluetooth earpieces in a ski village? When the moment’s right for you, I’ll gladly shove one up your arse. Same goes for any other gadget you insist on deploying with no regard for the rest of us.

Look, I’m no Luddite. I don’t blame the shiny toys—I covet them like everyone else. I have my cell phone with me most of the time (ringer off), my bike sports two computers, and there’s almost always a point-and-shoot in my ski jacket. But there’s a right time and a wrong time to use all that technology. Trouble is, outside of movie theaters, there’s no such thing as tech etiquette. The problem is especially acute when it comes to ski hills, bike trails, rivers, and other outdoor “escapes.”

So how about we try to agree on some basic protocols? Let’s start with a simple absolute: Calling your broker is never OK. The first time I heard a guy do this on a chairlift, I lifted my goggles and locked my best serial-killer glare on him till he hung up.

Music players are desperately in need of regulation. I rejoiced last fall when USA Track & Field banned them at all sanctioned events, including the New York City Marathon. The thinking is that an individual running with an iPod is fairly harmless, but problems occur when 40,000 people fail to hear warnings like “A steam pipe has exploded ahead.”

For any gadget, the trick is to ask yourself if the thing is really improving your experience. I have a buddy who has a fancy watch that calculates how much vertical he’s skied. He’s always letting me know the tally: “That’s 23,197 feet, Marc.” It’s as if he believes more feet skied automatically equals a better day. Even if that were true, I wouldn’t need the watch. I could simply multiply the vertical feet of the lift by the number of runs. And I have a calculator in my phone. Which I always leave in the car.

Then there’s the social element. A couple of summers ago, a bunch of overly competitive Boulder types and I went cycling in France. It was supposed to be a fun week of camaraderie—working together up the Tour’s legendary climbs—but each ride devolved into a race, complete with tactics, broken pacts, running drool, and snot bubbles. One rider in particular (let’s call him the Kaiser, since that’s what I call him) made short work of breaking both treaties and spirits. But I knew that his six-foot, 115-pound frame couldn’t withstand multiple days of hard effort. I saw my moment on the 8,678-foot Col du Galibier. I had fresh legs, a full belly, and a good night’s sleep. But at the start, Der Kaiser informed us that this would be one of his “iPod days.” Meaning, “I destroyed your pride yesterday, but today I’m going to chill out and listen to Styx and thus rob you of any chance for revenge while also recovering my mojo.” He checked out this way three times. It was like he was in a parallel universe.

Which is ultimately my beef with gadget abuse. It removes us from moments that are too precious to get pissed away scrolling through the images you just shot on your digicam, calling your girlfriend from the summit of Rainier, or editing footage on the chairlift—and showing it to me!—instead of kicking back and watching the snowflakes drift by. Web phones, handheld GPS units, bike computers with digital inclinometers, wee machines that play wee movies—every year there’s a new distraction. I use most of it, but not when it would make me look or feel like a schmuck. Kindly do the same.