A friend of mine recently bemoaned the state of electronic gadgetry in our lives (Hi, B). Specifically, his complaint is with phones and how everything is more about evasion and rationalizing the insincerity of our contacts with one another. In my friend’s mind, the origins of all of this go back to sometime in the 1980’s when caller ID was first introduced to consumers. He places that particular technology at the root of the current practice of everyone avoiding each another.
He probably has a point. With each advancement in what we now call land lines, we became more and more able to discern exactly when and from whom we would answer the phone. As cell phones appeared, the engineering designed to separate us increased markedly. It suddenly became akin to warfare. I’ll catch your number with my caller ID, but oh, wait, you have the ability to block your ID from me; you created a distinctive tone for only when I call, and you don’t even have to get up to walk over to your phone because you know it’s me calling.
Phones are now the complete opposite of what Alexander Graham Bell and Mr. Watson had intended. They are for avoiding each other rather than speaking. Remember when AT&T actually had an ad campaign called “Reach Out and Touch”? How quaint! No one has to yell out “I’ll get it!” anymore because I bet your phone is probably on silent mode anyway. Even calling it “silent mode” shows how old I am.
Of course, back in the days of yore we truly did miss phone calls. We were out at the supermarket or maybe driving the car. Being outside pretty much meant you couldn’t be reached. But now no one truly misses a call because phones are always nearby and ready to, well, not be answered. Some of the excuses are the same — “I was in the shower” or “I was at the movies.” Others are appropriate for the technology — “I was out of cell range” or “My battery died.”
Text messages are another way to avoid making or returning a phone call. I actually never do this because to me it’s too contrived and transparent. If a person makes an effort to call me, I will return their phone call. I notice this phenomenon with members of my own family, my two nephews in particular, and one older sister who is also habitual in the practice. I will call them up and almost immediately it goes to their voice mail. I will leave a message, and within five or ten minutes I will receive a text message response apologizing for their not answering because… (insert your own legitimate excuse here). And, of course, the ultimate kicker for these kinds of text message responses? The mere fact that you’ve been sent a text response absolves the sender from having to respond by voice– which I find to be brilliant!
There is no doubt a generational divide going on here. A recent Washington Post article on television viewing shows how the age-old practice of sitting in front of the TV is more and more something only older folk do. Millennials are increasingly cutting the cable cord and watching shows on computer, tablet, or phone devices only. Translate that kind of shift to other electronic gadgetry, and it’s really not hard to understand why phone etiquette has changed.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am no angel. I admit to having let a phone call go through one or three times in my life. Plus, to all you mothers out there who dutifully sit with your kids at the entrances of super markets watching them try to sell Girl Scout cookies when there are at least six other places you’d rather be, I am that guy who comes out of the store talking on his phone with a most earnest expression on his face, and walking right by your children because my “conversation” is so important that I suddenly cannot see them. Isn’t it amazing, though, how I do see the cars that I need to navigate around as I step into the parking lot? Isn’t it also amazing how that “conversation” magically ends as soon as I reach my vehicle? Yeah… I know. I needn’t have confessed, you already knew.
I made three promises to myself before starting this blog: (1) I will rarely or hopefully never write about politics; (2) I will not write about blogging itself, and (3) I will not write what I call “cranky old man” pieces that complain about all the infractions I see in regular, every day life. This particular post comes awfully close to the last one, so I’m watching myself very closely right now.
Ultimately I guess I don’t really care if you don’t wish to speak to me. I know you’re monitoring your phone because it’s always within ten feet of you. If there’s something I deem to be important, you are the master of your own kingdom, and you get to decide if you agree with me or not. But relationships do need to be nurtured. There really are no short cuts to intimacy. You have to work at it. If it’s easier for you to just dash off that quick message instead of speaking to me, then by all means go ahead. I will read it, absolutely. But please remember that I’m no dummy — I get what’s happening.
If it’s not too late for New Year’s resolutions, I do promise to buy girl scout cookies at the grocery store later this year. There’s always room for self-improvement.