THE BLOG
02/16/2012 02:14 pm ET Updated Apr 17, 2012

Why It Bugs Me When People Say: "I Must Have A.D.D.!"

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed the way rudeness is being passed off as adult A.D.D. these days? I'll be in a conversation with someone, and suddenly they will comment on something out the window, something on their iPhone, or something flashing across a flat-screen TV on the wall behind my head, and then look back at me and say, "Oh sorry! I must have A.D.D.!"

Let me be clear: Adult A.D.D. exists, and if you have been diagnosed with it, I am not talking to you. I wish you all the best. It's no fun.

But there seems to be an outbreak of self-diagnosed A.D.D. among individuals who simply have no manners. What is going on? Do I need to put Ritalin in my tic-tac dispenser and offer it to the afflicted?

I know, I know, it's all to be blamed on our fast-paced, screen media-saturated, multi-tasking lifestyles. We can't help it. There's just too much going on.

Confession. I am the last person to criticize others for falling down the rabbit hole of Internet comment threads, updating Facebook with breaking political news, or tweeting the latest fabulous NYT article... or all of those things at the same time. Guilty as charged. But I don't do these things in client meetings, at family dinners, or at any other times when real human beings should rightly get my attention ahead of virtual ones. It's called having social skills, and if you don't have them, I'm afraid there's no app for that.

To a person like me who is by nature irrationally afraid of offending people or not being liked, this adult A.D.D. epidemic is a mystery, trapped in a puzzle, shoved in a fireproof safe, tossed down a mineshaft. Alternatively, maybe I'm just getting old and curmudgeonly, adrift in a world of divided attention spans and unable to survive my own embarrassment for others, or their bemusement with themselves.

Is there any point in discussing the degradation of norms? Or is the current state of affairs the new normal? Recently I read an article that stated: "We have become a culture of sound bites, short attention spans, expecting instant gratification, and are missing out on deeper meaning and understating of the world we live in." Wow. I really hope that wasn't a costly enterprise by whatever group of psychologists decided to research that one.

So some of you are probably thinking, maybe it's her, not them. Fair enough. That would at least be a reasonable hypothesis. It would not, however, explain why so many other people are experiencing the same phenomenon and scratching their heads about it, kind of like the way so many people do not understand why no one RSVPs to invitations anymore. Feigned adult A.D.D. has a similar consequence -- it sends you the signal, through diminished acknowledgment of your existence and essential humanity, that you are not very important.

Once I was having a meeting with a colleague in my office and I noticed his eye contact drifting down into his large palm on a regular basis. Finally I stopped contributing to the conversation, and let him keep talking while texting or whatever he was doing. I let there be dead silence on my end. I wanted to see how long it could go on. When he finally realized what I was doing, instead of apologizing he presented the breezy A.D.D. self-diagnosis. I must have had some certain look on my face. He then whipped out the excuse of all excuses: I'm sorry, but my son is sick today and I need to stay connected. He somehow thought that would slip through my BS dragnet, but as a school administrator, I'd heard it before... often. We all knew that anything could get a free pass if it concerned a hypothetical sick child.

Maybe I just wasn't getting the message. This may have been his not-so-subtle way of saying, "I'm super busy. I'm highly connected. I'm very, very important. If this meeting isn't holding my interest, I've got a dozen other things I could be doing." But since it would be exceedingly poor etiquette for him to state this, not to mention entirely unprofessional, a much better strategy was to blame himself for a lack of self-control that is neurologically based and deserving of compassion rather than consternation.

Even Houdini could not get out of a trap like that. You've got to admire that kind of ingenuity.