NAVA BRAHE: When we were discussing this topic last week, I jokingly wrote that I was afraid vocal chords might be in danger of becoming extraneous, like skin flaps or a third nipple. It’s downright disturbing how little we actually speak to each other these days.
When mobile phones first arrived, everyone was so eager to talk to anyone anytime, anywhere. Now, you’re lucky if you can get someone to even return a phone call. Texting, Twittering, Skyping, Yahoo Messengering, etc. have become the preferred modes of communication. I do enjoy peace and quiet most of the time, but where is the happy medium between having a necessary conversation, and talking paint off a wall? Communicating in “real time” no longer requires talking; if you can’t type you’re royally screwed. Almost everyone I know picks up a phone as a last resort. I communicate with all my colleagues and clients via e-mail, or one of the above forms of electronic messaging. I get text messages all day long from my cousins and other family members, and barely say a word to anyone. Lately, even dinnertime conversation is impeded by electronic chatter from a BlackBerry and an iPhone. I don’t have a land line where I live, so technology is, in effect, my socially interactive outlet. Nowadays, my world revolves around my iPhone and my laptop; how sad is that?
Despite my need for technology, I sometimes refuse to embrace it fully. I’m not one of those people who chats or texts away mindlessly while in line at the bank or shopping in the supermarket. I can detach from my device when I need to, and wish others would extend me the courtesy of doing the same. I harbour this fear that humans will be able to have their electronic communication devices hardwired into their skin like LoJack, so they’ll never have to worry about spilling coffee on their BlackBerries, or accidentally have it slip out of its handy case while taking care of business, you know where. That would definitely be cause for uttering some choice words at a decible level louder than a whisper.
The more technology advances, the more socially incompetent we become. Our world has been reduced to “:-), LOL!, How r u?, and CUL8R.” Rather than succumb to the dumbing down of social interaction, I find myself going out of my way lately to call people, rather than e-mail, text or electronically message them. Most times, I don’t get a response. And, if I do, it’s, “Why didn’t you send me a text or an e-mail?” Fine; next time I’ll send an e-mail. At least I won’t have to worry about straining my voice.
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: Today at the gym a woman on the elliptical to my left was talking on a cell phone during her entire workout. Last weekend I attended a wedding, and noticed one of the guests sending a text message, from a pew, during the actual marriage ceremony. I can’t count the number of times I have been at lunch with a friend or acquaintance and have had to sit idly across from them while they took out their phone to answer a call or an email, often in the middle of our conversation. They can apologize and let me know that they are sorry but they really do have to respond, but it doesn’t really change the fact that they have chosen to make what their phone has to tell them the most important thing.
The implication in every one of these situations is that some absent person or distant event is of more importance than the here and now. I believe we need to rethink our motivation in responding to communications from others at the expense of those we are right in front of. Not only is it impolite to those whose company you are actually in, but you are also denying yourself the pleasure of being fully present in any one place and time. We have enlisted technology to help us train ourselves to be constantly alert to interruptions; to shift focus at a moment’s notice to a new task or a new event or a new person. We do this in an effort to get the most out of life; to never miss an important call or a crucial event. But the irony is that by being constantly primed to wonder what else we might be missing, we are never able to fully experience the lives we are living; the moments we are sharing. Soon after we arrive anywhere, we automatically begin to wonder what is going on elsewhere.
We are sliding down a dangerous, slippery slope with this kind of behavior, and our children are watching and learning from us. We can’t tell them that it’s rude to answer the phone in the middle of a conversation, because we do it ourselves. Countless parents talk on the phone while pushing their young children in strollers, surreptitiously teaching them that the people who aren’t there are the people they want most to talk to. We give kids our cell phones to keep them busy, teaching them that a phone is a toy; a diverting plaything that we use to fight boredom and distract ourselves, rather than a communication device.
We need to get a hold of our relationships with our gadgets, before they tighten their hold on us, and our children, still further.
AKIE BERMISS: Whew! I am so glad we decided to blog about this instead of actually speaking like civilized adults. I think Nava is great, but I disagree with her wholeheartedly when it comes to technology and socializing.
First of all, briefly, let me just say that I’m a big fan of extraneous organs. I’ve had my tonsils all these years — and I have no intention of giving them up just because they do nothing other than get infect and cause me constant pain and sorrow.
Secondly — present readership excluded — I don’t actually like talking to most people. So I don’t mind a nice technological barrier to do the dirty work for me. That said, there are ways to text and ways not to text. A little etiquette is all one requires.
I think it all comes down to how people are raised and/or how they view themselves as socially interacting with one another. For example, if I find myself alone in a car with someone, I am loathe to answer phone calls and texts because I think its not only rude, but really, really awkward. I hate it when I’m in a car with someone and they get on the phone and have a whole 30 minute conversation while I sit around awkwardly twiddling my thumbs.
Ok — the truth is, I usually take that opportunity to get some sweet texting in! — but I still feel kind of guilty about it. Meanwhile, on a crowded train or even in a car or van with a few people in it, I’m much more likely to answer or make a phone call if the mood grips me. Because I come from a generation of people who really started to communicate with each other using devices. And not in the sense that a classic telephone is a device — the phone has always been very off-putting to me, its like bad-acting in real-life. You have to over-sell every point to make it come across like you are actually there. And even when I’ve know an person for years and years, I still have trouble striking a natural rhythm with them on the phone. Its both too much and too little like speaking to someone in person.
I use the phone only in short bursts for quick, need-to-know information. Is this also, perhaps, a behavioral tick grown out of spending so many years contending with phone plans and daytime minutes? Perhaps. Still, it works very well for me. I’ve never been much of a socializer, actually. When I was a kid at summer camp I earned the nickname “Worm” because I spent most of my free time with a book of some sort. I made friends slowly. In a sense, I still do.
I go to the diner with a book in hand and I start reading as soon as the coffee comes. I’m not interested in coincidental meetings or alluring strangers — give me a protagonist and a plot and I’m yours. So emails and IM came along in the mid-90s and they rocked my world. A way to speak to people, that is hyper-literate, efficient, and non-social (or at least a very controlled social environment). Perfect for me! And I really feel like that it the great promise that email, texting, and IM had when they were first around. I write back and forth to my nerdy friends in high cant. We shared philosophical theorems with each other over the internet. We wrote cooperative poetry in exclusive chats!
I still utilize the internet (and gadgets that utilize the internet) in the same fashion. No matter the context — Facebook, twitter, blogging, email, etc — I write as I would like to be heard. I use full words, unless I making new words up. Or I’m using a deliberate acronym. Or (as it sometimes the case on Twitter) I’m out of characters — then I might start picking of those pesky (some what unnecessary) vowels. Is it my fault that the demographic that usually floods to new technology is young people? And not all young people are word-nerds who like language more than they like girls. Many are just trying to do the normal things young people do and screw whatever medium aids or deters them. It’s from 11 year olds using IM that you get garbage like “c u l8r” and “how r u”. Those are not cool new things, those are lame teenage things. And a generation of jerks has made themselves dominant by overrunning us with their nonsense.
But don’t blame the iPhone or the iPad or the iBook (oh — who are we kidding, Apple?!?) for the dearth of cultured individuals in the rising generation. Its not the technology that has made us crass. Television has been around for decades and there’s nothing high tech about Jersey Shore. When it comes down to it (and it often does) this is really a matter of the tools at hand and who chooses to use them and HOW they choose to use them. There will always be crass teenagers doing dumb things with whatever they can get their hands on, but it is the burden of we literate few (you know, adults?) to tame this new, raw technology. And make IT in our own image. And not complain that it is vice versa. My computer, my iPhone, my apps — they serve my will. It is not the other way around.