Mr. Wild Card sent me a text on December 14th, the day a person decided to gun down 27 people for a reason we may never be able to comprehend:
This is horrific on the news
I saw his name before I read the text. I smiled. Then I saw his words and felt the pain. Deep heart pain. And a little relief that someone here, nearby, was reaching out to me at a time when I needed to hear the voice of another person. My fingers itched to do the talking, but I wanted to listen to words. I needed to hear another human’s feelings about something so inhumane. This was an opportunity to connect. To have a meaningful exchange about an event nearly impossible to comprehend. If there was ever a time to call this was it.
I sucked in a deep breath and pulled up his number.
Then I poured a glass of water. Drank some. Looked at the half empty glass. Drank some more. Went to the bathroom and then leisurely washed my hands. Thought about what I would say when he answered. Thought about texting him to see if he could take a call. (WT?) Just because he texted me doesn’t mean he’s in a position to have an actual conversation. Refilled my glass because I didn’t want to be stuck with an empty glass while conversing. Swept the kitchen floor.
Went outside to check on my dormant fig tree…because dormant fig trees need close supervision.
For a person who spent 12 years of her adult business life on the phone, making major life-altering moves happen with only a voice to guide the way, my reticence to have a phone conversation with someone who is a new-ish friend was unsettling. Which was all the impetus I needed to pick up the phone and dial his number.
For the first time.
To his credit, he’s called me twice. Each call should be honored with a medal, a parade and a key to some cool beach town, because people just don’t call these days. In the last 10 years we have gone from long talks on the phone to 140 characters to you and you and you, all at the same time. Little blasts of information from our lives that, upon arrival, are interpreted without context. No tone, no lift of a brow, no sweet or sly smile. No social cues to read.
My reliance on texting has led to phoneaphobia. The ability to read, then ponder, then deliver a perfectly crafted reply to a text has been polished to a glare. But the skill I once had, the ability to react to spoken words from afar with merely a breath and a lob of masterful linguistics, is as nurtured as my current understanding of algebra.
x = y – z…which equals, What? Really. Why do I need to be able to do this?
Letters aren’t numbers. Which is why I like letters. Algebra I don’t need. But conversations? Yes. I need them. We all need them. And not just drive-bys, but conversations that slowly unfold, allowing the participants an opportunity to bare all bit by bit, like a linguistic version of a striptease. The kind you start in the kitchen and finish on the couch, eyes closed, shoes off, guard down.
We spoke for 20 minutes. What began as a fruitless task to say something other than, It’s unbelievable, ended with rolling laughter about forest lions (mountain lions) and what dogs really sign up for when they become our pets. In the middle we talked about how one event, in this case the murders in Connecticut, affects thousands. The suffering extends out from Newtown to every town, to every heart.
That one phone call connected us in a way that all the texts prior did not.
Many have written about the perils of a life spent texting – bad grammar, underdeveloped verbal communications skills, lack of focus, loss of sleep, car crashes. Thumbs falling off.
My concern is how disconnected we are becoming. We laud texting as a technology that allows us to remain in touch. But texting makes it easy for us to remain alone, separated, and protected from having to spontaneously divulge our thoughts and feelings and respond to the expressions and words of another vocally. Yet we feel as if we are being social, connecting with others.
Texting is often from the mind; clever, concise, pointed. Conversations give the heart a say, too. By minute 15, the heart has pushed the mind to the side of the stage and commandeered the microphone. That’s when magic happens, emotions are shared, ideas pondered and dissected. All while having the advantage of vocal cues and the ability to guide interpretation. The sound of laughter, or a sigh, or a hmmpphh can spin any spoken sentence on its period. All that is lost when only Qwerty is used.
With a text there’s no commitment. We don’t have to respond, we can stop responding at any time, we can pretend we never got the text to begin with, and we keep it short, sweet and acronym heavy. It’s a pretty simple way to stay in touch; there’s no awkward, long goodbye, you hang up first…no, you. Humans, while clearly competent at complicating life, do like things simple. Texting seems simple.
The Genius and I spent much of our time apart while married. As a result we communicated a lot by phone in the first 10 years. I’d be in bed and he in another city or another country, a hotel phone pressed to his ear and our cordless to mine. No dropped calls, no hot ear, just an hour or so of talking with our eyes closed, under the covers, allowing the conversation to meander along, improvised.
Then I broke down and got an iPhone while he clutched his Blackberry, and the texts flew. It was so easy to share a dude story, ask a quick question, ‘watch’ a game together. Time zones were not an issue – if it was late the phone would be on silent, yet the text was sent, so thoughts were communicated. The need to speak was taken care of with a few keystrokes. Messages from the mind. Mission accomplished.
If the mission was to snip each little thread that held our relationship together.
I grew accustomed to not speaking to The Genius for a few days at a time. Phone conversations were more of a hassle now that texting had become so easy; no need to press the 2 key three times to get to the C anymore. Why bother placing a call? I don’t have to wait for the phone to be answered, I can just hit send. We knew each other so well that it wasn’t as if we would misinterpret our texts, or lose the ability to talk to each other when we finally came face-to-face again. Texting kept us in touch while he was traveling. We could pop into each others lives throughout the day.
I’m certain at some point I said, Isn’t this great?
At the time it never occurred to me that texting would facilitate the demise of our marriage.
As texting took over, my need to talk to him diminished. I got by on less. Then I started to not like talking on the phone. The need for an hour-long conversation was replaced by an aversion to anything over 5 minutes. All those lost opportunities for us to create and hear each others laughter, stumble upon a topic that we needed to cover for our relationship to grow, or have ‘dinner’ together, which we used to do from afar before texting made it easier to hold a knife and fork at the same time. Besides, talking was taxing while eating.
It took a few years, but eventually I became a textrovert. And I’m just one of millions.
The reliance on texting as the way we most often communicated was a dangerous move that went unrecognized at the time. While not the primary reason for our divorce, it certainly facilitated his affair and made us less dependent on each other as people. Texting didn’t keep us connected, but it did create a lot of white noise so we didn’t hear the snip, snip of our relationship.
We are all connected. But not because of our smart phones or laptops or iPads. We’re connected because we’re one species, the dominant one, on a planet in space and we need to talk about stuff. Our need to communicate is nearly as important as our need for clean air and water. It’s essential to our survival.
What would Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) have done without Wilson in Cast Away?
As I gaze into the four curious eyes of the dudes, eyes that I would rather have focused in books than on screens, I sense a dismal future for relationships, romantic or otherwise. I’ve got my work cut out for me to insure that they can have thought-provoking conversations where traits such as empathy, honesty, and respect for another are developed as opinions are shared and debated. Memories are made, genuine friendships formed.
I can recall many lively conversations I’ve had with various people throughout my life. Often it’s their facial expressions that I remember the most. And then the tones of their voices. I’ve never once seen the face of someone while they texted me, and I often think they’re laughing when they’re not.
Texts are not memorable conversations.
It’s not just the dudes I’m concerned about. It’s me, too. I’m spending an awful lot of time basically doing the equivalent of binge-texting, albeit hopefully with better flow and grammar. Will my keyboard become my Wilson?
I sure hope so.
But I’m not giving up on phone calls. First up is one to a kitten. I have to talk to her about an email she sent. One that I need to share with you. The subject line is:
Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater
This is sure to be no drive-by chat about infidelity.