Gov. Rick Scott Gets an Earful in Starbucks. Welcome to Life Imitating the Internet.

By Heather Wilhelm Published on April 8, 2016

On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott got a jolt at a Gainesville Starbucks, but it wasn’t from sugar, excessive caffeine or a new over-the-counter social justice campaign. No, those things would be too boring: Instead of coffee, Scott got a high-decibel, no-mercy public scolding from one of his constituents.

“You strip women from access to public health care,” a green-shirted woman shrieked, pointing vigorously in the governor’s general direction. “Shame on you, Rick Scott! You’re an embarrassment to our state. You cut Medicaid so I couldn’t get Obamacare.” The woman, whose name is Cara Jennings, then called Scott a bad name starting with “a,” so let’s hope there were no kindergartners getting an unfortunate vocabulary lesson along with their hot chocolate in Starbucks that day.

“You should be ashamed to show your face around here,” she continued. Scott, a proverbial deer in the muted coffee shop headlamps, gamely muttered something about creating a million jobs. “A MILLION JOBS?” Jennings hollered, dramatically looking around for effect, no doubt surveying the individuals camped out with laptops and blatantly spreading their stuff all over tables meant for four to six people, as is the case in most Starbucks outlets across the country. “Great! Who here has a great job?”

OK, fine — that last line was kind of funny. Since it’s 2016, at least two people recorded the Great Rick Scott Starbucks Public Excoriation; in the version that went viral, the smartphone video operator even muttered his approving verdict upon Scott’s hasty exit: “Sweet.” For much of the Internet, that seemed to be the verdict as well: Jennings was a hero of sorts, “shaming” Scott, “giving him an earful,” and generally serving as a voice of the people.

On one hand, this could be seen as a glorious example of speaking truth to power — or gobbledygook to power, depending on your point of view — and a celebration of America’s long tradition of free speech. That’s probably partly true. On the other hand, at least to me, it looks like yet another example of a culture where people don’t know how to behave in public spaces, and where life increasingly imitates the Internet.

Close your eyes for a moment, and envision a lovely local Italian restaurant on a warm summer night. Picture tables lit by flickering candles, couples laughing together and large groups of jovial friends. Next, picture a pair of grandparents at the table next to you, watching, befuddled, as their tweenage grandchild stares like a zombie at a video screen, sporting giant, noise-blocking headphones that make her look like a cross between Princess Leia and a slightly grumpy bug.

We’ve all seen something like this. Heck, I’ve even seen families forgo the headphones altogether, so that their unfortunate dining neighbors can catch strains of the Frozen soundtrack for the millionth time. Norms of behavior, in short, have clearly changed. Blatantly bad manners, if tied to some sort of screen, are met with an offhand shrug. In fact, these days, if you don’t use a screen to sedate your kids at a restaurant, it will probably blow your waiter or waitress’s mind.

I speak from experience, by the way: I’ve banned screens for my kids at dinner, and after a few horrifying restaurant experiences that resembled the dining equivalent of Custer’s last stand, behold! My kids can now order their own food; they can look strangers in the eye and have a conversation; they can calmly respond to horrifying unexpected real-world events, like the mistaken placement of cheese on a burger — OK, fine, we’re still working on that one. They can say “please” and “thank you,” and they can generally get through a meal without falling off their chair, spilling some stranger’s beer or randomly throwing up.

Here’s the sad thing: I cannot tell you how many times these simple feats have sparked amazement and admiration among restaurant staff. Children are increasingly immersed in a screen-fed world: According to Common Sense Media, childhood screen time now averages two-three hours per day for children under 8, six hours a day for kids 8-12, and nine hours for teenagers — and that doesn’t include time spent for school or homework.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “studies have shown that excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and smartphones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.” There’s even a new and rising disorder called — get ready — “text neck.”

For adults and children alike, screens can also distort reality — which brings us back to that public anti-Scott rant. It was, when you think about it, the real-world version of a crazed, one-sided Twitter screed. Jennings had zero consideration for the other customers in the room, many hiding behind their own individual screens; it was an awkward moment in real life that somehow, once filmed and launched into the ether, suddenly gained clicks, approval and widespread applause. “I’ve gotten a tremendous amount of positive comments,” Ms. Jennings told the New York Daily News. Indeed she has. When life imitates the Internet, buckle up: It’s ranty out there.


Heather Wilhelm is a writer based in Austin, Texas. Her work can be found at and her Twitter handle is @heatherwilhelm.

This article originally appeared at RealClearPolitics on April 7, 2016, and is reprinted with permission.

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