Send a message. Receive a message. These two steps are the essentials of communication. If one step breaks down, the communication fails. But, as any FOT knows, then or now, it ain’t that simple. I hear a lot of griping from my generation about the failure of modern communication, but let’s look back for a moment to where the “failure to communicate” took various forms.
In childhood, our family shared a party line. Not political ideologies, but a telephone landline with several other families so that when you picked up the phone, you took the chance of hearing your neighbor Mrs. Schnarkley talking to her sister. Although you might glean a juicy morsel about Mr. Schnarkley’s drinking problem, you had to wait to use the phone.
When we, blessedly, got rid of the party line, the phone, as one of only two conveyances of personal messages in and out of the house (the other being mail), was often “tapped” by one or another of my siblings. I can still hear my brother’s devious voice imitating poor Larry Denzling’s speech impediment – Larry had called to ask me if he could kiss me backstage in our grade school play. My brother had listened in. The humiliation was overwhelming.
There was also the overly efficient communication that every teenager dreads. Somehow my father figured out how to place a call to the downstairs extension from the phone extension upstairs. Usually, around 11:30 when he’d had too much of the noise my friends and I were making downstairs, the phone would ring. “Jane, tell your friends they have to leave now.” It was a great trick and my father’s deep, authoritative voice made one wonder if it were God calling you in for the night.
However, I’m not particularly nostalgic for old-fashioned forms of communication and know that it’s healthy to remember that they were not without their flaws.
Today, however, if you want the second part of the communication process to work, you have to carefully think through which mode of communication is the one that a particular person will respond to. For example, if I send a group text to my contemporaries, I have to remember who doesn’t have a Smartphone because it’s unlikely they’ll receive the text. Then there’s the quandary over text or email – often, the person who doesn’t text also only reads email a few times a week. Clearly, those with adult children have been much quicker to embrace texting as they know that it’s absolutely the best way to reach their children.
I love texting. But, I’m not sure I believe anyone who says they text because it’s more expedient. I may be projecting here but admit that I often look forward to the absence of an audience at the end of my sent message and I ‘m pretty sure everyone else does, too. Let’s face it – we’re – and by “we” I mean “me” – are a wee bit shy. Texting is the best because you can sound so confidant and sure and sort of “Hey, look at me – I’m texting!” when behind the fingers, is a crumbling mass of neurosis and insecurity.
My siblings and I continue to use voicemail because it’s hard to reach each other in person. We tend to leave long, newsy, one-sided messages. One day, I was listening to one of these messages and I realized I was talking back to it – “Um-hmm,” “I know what you mean,” “You can say that again!” –21st century communication is so confusing!
Of course, the ol’ man vs. machine dilemma plays out in this modern potpourri of communication options. My friend Sandy is a good example. Hands down, Sandy gets the award for the longest voicemails in the history of voicemails. More often than not, her messages require two deliveries, a fact that usually, doesn’t seem to faze her – the second delivery seamlessly picks up where the other left off, a tiny pebble in the communication highway. I often play her messages on speakerphone so that I can mop the floor or wait for bread to rise while I listen. Once, I was with her as she was leaving a message for her husband. In her usual form, she had a lot to say – what had happened that day, an update on what he could find in the fridge for dinner, a list of things he needed to do, etc., and then, suddenly, she was shouting at the phone, “Darn – it cut me off again – I hate it when it does that!” Inside, I laughed.
So, adding to our complex communication challenges– email, voicemail, text, facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and yes, the ol’ landline – comes another challenge for FOTs, a challenge that was clear the other day as my husband and I were driving somewhere. I heard him say, “Did you know bugs got started in men’s boots?”
“In men’s boots?” My mind was awhirl – bedbugs? Lice? Ladybugs?
“Yes – I read that,” he confirmed.
What was he talking about? Was this the first sign of dementia? But, as I tell my children, what I think I hear is always better than what was said and this was no exception. After much wrangling and spelling of words, we finally worked out that he had said “UGGs” not “bugs.”
E.M. Forster famously wrote, “Only connect.” We’ll keep trying.