Remember what communication was like when we were kids? We had the telephone – often on shared party lines – hardwired into the wall. If we had something to say to anyone when we were away, we waited until we got home or, if time mattered, we found a phone booth.
The other option was snailmail, actual words in ink on paper sent through the post office. We didn't need to designate them “snailmail” back then; it was the only kind there was.
Nowadays, in addition to snailmail, there is email, instant messaging, tweeting, texting, Facebook, Skype and some other brands that are variations on these themes.
Most of all, there is the ubiquitous mobile phone which, nowadays, is hardly for talking at all. It's a GPS service, a game console, a camera and web browser. You can watch videos and TV, listen to your own music or to radio, scan a document, program your home DVR and, of course, indulge in the ever-popular texting.
(There are webpages devoted to long lists of more things cellphones can do including some that are hoaxes – extra, hidden battery power, for example, does not exist.)
The only time I can see that mobile phones are used for talking is at restaurant meals with a friends – often a beloved friends – whose phones continually buzz. “Sorry, I need to take this,” they say as they walk away from the table. And do again in a few minutes. And again. There seem to be a lot of emergencies during lunch and dinner these days.
Last week, I received an email from a long-time reader in Ireland named Anne Brew. She had been watching the video of a presentation I gave in 2007 on elders and technology:
”Do you still hate texting?” asked Anne.
“I'm 64 and a lot of my family don't live near enough to visit daily although I'd like to communicate with them daily. Phoning seems impertinent; it locks the person into talking to you when they might be at work, in the car, asleep. Texting has worked for me as a good alternative.”
Yes, I still dislike texting. The only possible use I can imagine for it is to let someone know I'm running late for our appointment but one could as easily make a voice call.
The phone keyboards – physical or virtual – are too small to be comfortable for typing longer messages and beyond “I'll be 15 minutes late,” well, call me unimaginative, but no other short messages worth sending come to mind.
Anne's comment that “phoning seems impertinent” is a surprise. Can that be true? After all, speech was the original reason for phones and there's something warm and comfortable about listening to a friend's voice, don't you think? And just as in the past, the callee is not required to answer or can say he or she is busy right now, so why not phone?
There are people with whom, via email, I make appointments for telephone chats, but there are at least an equal number – young and old – whom I call on whim, as do they. When there is no answer, leaving a voice message is as easy as it has always been and we get back to one another at our convenience.
What a terrible world it would be if the only time the phone rings is when it's spam.
Invariably, when this discussion has come up on this blog in the past, a number of readers sound defensive about Facebook. “I use it because that's where the grandchildren are,” they say.
Oh, come on. You can say it out loud without excuses. It's all right to like Facebook. I happen to dislike it (almost as much as Twitter). And that's okay too. I use FB only as an additional distribution channel for readers who find it convenient to read TGB that way. (Twitter too.)
What I find intolerable about FB (among other things) is the unceasing stream of short, out-of-context commentary and in particular, all the “likes” of this, that and the other. There is little value to the empty observation that someone likes this TV show or that photograph or book without knowing the reason.
Some people tell me blogging is old fashioned now and I should be doing this directly on Facebook along with tweeting short, pithy comments throughout the day about aging.
Throughout the day? I have a life, a life that after great effort on my part now involves much less screen time than in the past. More important, however, outside of “Fire! Run!” I believe there is precious little that can be said in under 140 characters that is worth spending the time to read.
No, I'm sticking with long form communication starting with unstructured telephone calls that meander from one subject to another and last until we feel we're done. Full-length blog posts too – to read and to write – with whole sentences, paragraphs and developed thought.
And so it goes each in our own way.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marc Leavitt: On My Wardrobe in Retirement