It used to be communicating with someone meant looking across the table and speaking or picking up a pen and thoughtfully writing ribbons of words onto beautiful hand or machine made paper. Later on, thanks to Mr. Bell, it entailed picking up the phone and dialing. The party on the other end would pick up the ringing contraption and say, “Hello” and from there a conversation would ensue. Excluding telemarketers, these conversations followed the rules of phone etiquette and employed the giving and receiving of information in complete sentences. At the conclusion of a phone call, both parties said “Goodbye” and hung up the phone. When a caller made a call and the phone rang at least ten times, it was generally assumed the party was not home, taking a bath, using the toilet, had something boiling on the stove or eating dinner. A polite caller would try back in hour increments until the party was home, out of the bath, off the toilet, made sure the stove didn’t catch fire or finished dinner. If a caller attempted to call a more antisocial friend or family member they could assume the party could refuse to answer the phone or they could be lying dead at the foot of the basement stairs. If the unreached party was not in the hereafter, a wonderful invention was designed just for the cantankerous individual. It is called an answering machine.
Beyond the invention of the answering machine, whole new technologies came into being, e-mail and cellular phone texting; what I otherwise consider the end of communication, courtesy and civility. For instance: A while back my husband went out of town to a conference. He took me along. Every night we went out to dinner and the majority of those meals were shared with his colleagues, all of whom were military members. I have one thing to say to them. “Gentlemen, it is not polite to e-mail, text and browse the internet when you are sitting across from someone who would much rather see your face than your bald spot or chrome dome.”
Short lines of text and e-mail can be fun and used for immediate information sharing, but I find they are often received at inconvenient moments, do little to create true communication and the shortened verbiage can be confusing. Before the days of prohibitive texting while driving, my husband was having an impromptu text session with our daughter. It went like this. Daughter to Dad: I can’t make it home in time to meet the bus. Dad to Daughter: Y Daughter to Dad: ???? Dad to Daughter: Y Daughter to Dad: Y what? Dad to Daughter: What do U mean Y what? Daughter to Dad: ???? At this point my husband tossed me the phone and told me to deal with her. I figured out that Dad was using Y for why and Daughter was using Y for yes.
It took me a year to discover that some people put extra punctuation into an e-mail sentence on purpose. A semi-colon and a left parenthesis is a winking smiley face. 😉 That is only the beginning of my trials by e-mail. I often get accused of not responding to e-mail. When I get busy working at my four part-time jobs I often forget to check my e-mail. I have whittled my negligence down to a couple of days, instead of a week or two, but I still get complaints. Then there are other times I get lost in the flood of e-mails and get so frustrated trying to figure out what is going on, I give up, sort of like an electronic meltdown without the smell of burning wires. And yes, there are times I am the aforementioned cantankerous individual employing the answering machine theory.
For the most part electronic messaging is a good thing, but it is overused, abused and misconstrued as effective communication..Countless misunderstandings have been caused by e-mail and texting because the parties involved cannot see facial expressions or hear voice inflection. In the days when letter writing was the only form of communication, educated individuals learned how to use the written word to convey thoughts, feelings and perpetuate understanding. In our haste to send quick responses, that art has been lost to decades and centuries past. As a writer I am disturbed seeing the written word abbreviated, symbolized and spit out at the speed of light. The written word is trivialized in our schools to the extinction of children learning cursive writing. It makes me sad to know most of our young people would not be able to read Benjamin Franklin’s letters, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address or their grandmother’s hand written recipes.
The point is this. Texting and e-mail are wonderful tools but should never take the place of the thoughtful conveyance of ideas and emotions via the written word. The person you are sending off a quick electronic missive to probably is not the one in the room or car with you. The person, you are within smiling distance of; needs to see your face, read what is in your eyes, longs for your expressions and wants to communicate in the way we have all desired since man learned his first words. Put down the phone, IPad, laptop or tablet and talk to them. When we learn each other’s stories we are compelled to write the fullness of life and cherish the written word.