Technology’s eating away at courtesy

(Click here for the online version)

HAVE you ever taken the LRT from Kelana Jaya to KL Sentral in the heat of a morning rush, let’s say on Thursday?

Ladies and Gentleman: Welcome to Planet Weird, where Nobody-Utters-A-Word.

A while ago, a flock of young executives boarded the train at the Taman Bahagia stop – draped in their formal shirts and leather shoes. Hands firmly gripped on the briefcases.

Throughout the journey, their eyes never once left the screens of their handhelds. Some punched away email and short messages into their Blackberry; some were scrolling the state-of-the-art iPhone screens back and forth, back and forth. None appeared to give a damn about anything around them.

Seating right in front of me was a teenager – who should have been in school an hour ago – with iPod headphones plugged firmly into his ears. I lost his song selection after Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry. But the sound from his iPod was loud enough to fill up an entire shopping mall.

A six-year-old boy sat sandwiched between the iPod teenager and his mother, with the latest version of Game Boy clutched in his fingers. He was oblivious to his surroundings. Watching him, I recalled someone once telling me that he had made it a point to avoid two things in life: illegal substances and electronic game devices. I now know why.

An exception, perhaps, came in a form of an old pensioner in skullcap and walking stick. He sat quietly reading a copy of the Harakah. Reading is decidedly a dying culture in Malaysia.

My quick, nosy glance around me revealed that a pregnant lady badly needed a seat. The bulging varicose veins threatened to pop out of her feet anytime now. A makcik holding a basketful of keropok needed a seat, too, that basket must have weighed at least five kilograms.

Lo and behold, humanity was apparently a foreign concept in this train. Awaken them I must. Let’s disturb the iPod kid, shall we?

“Excuse me son, could you please give up your seat for the pregnant lady?” The eyes of the young executives, the six-year-old boy, his mother and the old pensioners were all on me.

The teenager looked up to my direction. He sniggered. Then he rolled his eyes while saying: “Mind your own business.”

His headphone never left his ears. As to how he could hear me talking is still beyond my comprehension. Fair enough. I should really mind my own business. Who was I to tell him to give up his seat?

The massive bloom of technology dissipates good old-fashioned inter-personal communication. Gone were the days where strangers could carry-on animated conversations in public transport.

Courtesy and respect for the elderly, or the helpless, diminishes into thin air as the younger generation hold on to their handhelds and computer games. Reading, while passing time, can only be seen in pensioners.

Often, for the sake of staying connected to the World Wide Web, we forget the simple pleasures of saying ‘hello’ to the person next to us. While we scour for information splashed on online news-portals, or keeping up virtually with friends on Facebook, we forget to take a break to smell the flowers.

Have we become a nation so infatuated with technology that we have chosen to forsake common courtesy and chivalry? I have to pen off now. KL Sentral was two stops ago.

● Elviza Michele Kamal is a reluctant lawyer who tries to train her runaway thoughts by jotting in her moleskine. She blogs at


32 thoughts on “Technology’s eating away at courtesy

  1. what happened then? you should’ve just piat his telinga. and the rest of the commuters just stood there cowardly? shameful.

    Ucin (are you ‘Ucin’ Jefree’s friend?),

    No, they were not cowards, may be they were not as nosy as I was. LOL

  2. those corporate zombies in LRT are not aware that they’re undergoing a slow and steady dehumanisation process.

    -Tok Pendita-


    Got to separate ourselves from the technology once in the while …

  3. Elviza, my favourite author,

    You, my dear, have arrived. Am so proud of you. Always have been proud of you. No matter which medium you picked to write on, you did so with honesty and class.

    Do me a favour? Don’t be so hard on yourself and give that long overdue pat on your back.


    Thank you so much for the support all this while…

  4. Sedap jer baca… macam angin sepoi-sepoi bahasa di tepi laut. Bangga sekali dengan mana mana anak Malaysia yang berbakat besar. Harus dipupuk dan diasuh barulah dapat melahirkan generasi yang serba boleh.

    Thanks Kuna!

  5. Salam Elviza,
    I did go through similar experience couple of years back when trying to beat traffic jams from BBBangi to Angkasa Raya, KL… I suspect its something to do with the feeling of insecurity which somehow translates into showing-off complex… especially among the youngsters (and up-and-coming execs.)… they could be really well-off, of course, to be able to “afford” all these cool electronic “gadgets”, or more likely, they could barely afford them, BUT somehow have to assert themselves (and others around them) that they are really one notch above the rest of the crowd… the rude & nonchalant attitude is but a means of expressing that insecurity feeling? I would say this is another version of the “first world act with third world mindset” phenomenon… the Japanese and other advanced societies somehow still have their public courtesy, but some of us Malaysians? “Indah khabar dari rupa! Yach!

    Salam Dhahran,

    Points well said. But kids nowadays have different needs that us before, don’t you think so?

  6. I’m glad that you now have an additional outlet for your considerable writing talent. Your long-term investment in Moleskines are certainly paying off. Good stuff. Loved your observations. Keep em comin.


    My Moleskines are not investment, they are gifts from generous friends and loved ones. Thank you for the support though…

  7. You were so engrossed in your thoughts that you didn’t realise you have overshot. A truly engrossing piece of writing. Keep it up.


    Could have not done it without your support!

  8. real human interaction is overrated. i am building a prototype communication-medium robot which will automatically execute all small talk instances for us. this will save us humans all the awkward hassle, hail us!

    Penyangak (apsal lah bagi nama macam nih kat diri sendiri kan?),

    Real human communication is not overrated, my friend. It is still the best form of communication – to me at least. But I wait for your prototype robot with bated breath!

  9. my neighbour – both husband and wife are lawyers – every night i could hear Latin words being whispered from their bedroom. “Have I established a mala fide against you, honey?”. “Yes, it’s great!”.

    Tok Pendita,

    Ours is hardly that, usually we have heated discussion about politics or why am doing everything by myself – ALONE – at home? LOL

  10. Now I have to buy Malay Mail! Grrr…

    Congratulation is in order methink? 🙂


    Tak payah congrats aku, tapi kalu dapat present dari Singapore pun best juga *wink, wink*

  11. tok mommy,
    elviza told me she is going to open a “nasi kerabu” stall in front of her house (just kidding).

    Tok Pendita,

    Trust me, I have every intention to do that if only I could persuade my mom to be the chef – to no avail so far. 🙂

  12. You… a ‘reluctant’ lawyer, blogger and now a columnist! Do you see talent my dear?

    Don’t deny it. This is a gift from God darling sister! Congrats!



    I don’t see talent there, perhaps a little break and luck… that’s all lah. But thanks anyway

  13. Elviza,

    These days,my better half and I communicate almost 90%(if not more) of whatever needs to be communicated between us, via either email or text messaging, or voice mail.Skyping is a bonus,if either of us is abroad. Talk about being caught in this IT drift, or this punishing rat race.Right now, she is about 6,000 miles away, on business(as usual).


  14. Elviza,

    What??? You famous now? That’s it I ll loose any hope left to date you. If I know you take LRT every morning I will camp at KelanaJaya station.

  15. i know why this blog attracts so many readers, especially men — it’s because this blogger sounds nice and beautiful in her writing. I wonder why no one has admitted to this fact in here.

  16. u should have SIT on the boy,s lap and do jiggy with it!!!

    let him feel so shy till he will run to his mummy!!!

    talking bout ‘silence’ in the train…. how bout in the lift…

    where all look at the only things that moves…. floor number… 2…3..4..5..6

  17. Great piece and well observed! In the London Underground and in Tokyo too these are common occurence. It’s dead quiet during rush hours as everyone is engrossed in their own little cyber-handheld world. Actually, many Brits do read on the trains. Courtesy though is first rate still. OAPs and mothers with prams are nearly always offered seats. In Tokyo, most commuters watch TV on their mobile phones!! It would be interesting to compare cultures and their social interaction in public.

  18. i SO agree with “Penyangak”, a communicating proto-robo to be stationed in LRTs. perhaps, the same proto-robo will ‘teach’ humanity too by giving seats to those deserving? that ought to teach those ignorant wimps some manners.

    congratulations on the well-written and observed piece, too!!!

  19. I’ve experienced the same situation when I was commuting from KL Sentral to Nilai by KTM commuter and I was heavily pregnant 8 months plus, sad to say nobody not even the students from UKM offered me a seat. All the way I was standing, sweating heavily, in the verge of collapsing and giving birth. Since then, I never commute. I rather drive than feeling sad looking at our new generation attitude. By the way Elviza, Congratulation for your new column. It is awesome and wow! you look gorgeous.

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