A favorite Jerry Seinfeld moment of mine comes not from his TV show, nor from any of his standup routines, but from an interview he once gave on a talk show. He observed that the phone is now completely a tool used for “warfare” with one another. What with caller ID, blocking, direct-to-voicemail, etc., he commented that it appears we go to great lengths to avoid actual contact. His punchline, the one that made me laugh out loud, is that we probably have to return to the days of “Lassie” when a telephone rings in a home and someone yells, “I’ll get it!!!!!”
That all came back to me when I read a recent New York Times article about Generation Z, a group generally defined as those born between 1997 and 2012. I learned that this generation is more or less responsible for a trend away from using email. For this specific group, email is a tired anachronism gifted from an earlier period. In their eyes, email is both confining and a time-wasting way to communicate. Reading that made me think of the parallels between Seinfeld’s commentary about phone use, and all the other ways that we’ve since “graduated” to limit meaningful contact in this overly technical world we live in.
From the above article: “Part of the whole reason I don’t want to work for someone else is because I don’t want to constantly check my email and make sure my boss didn’t email me,” said Adam Simmons, 24, who owns his own video production company. “That’s the most stressful thing.”
I admire his candor. He’s not speaking of a yearning to be creative, independent, or even wealthy in owning his own business. Rather, he just wants to be free of the responsibilities of having to feel obligated.
I’m actually not dumping on Generation Z here. They may be unwittingly leading us away from using email, but I also get that they’re not the only ones who feel this way. Members of my own family, all in different age ranges from younger to older, have similar feelings.
A cousin who is roughly my age bluntly told me a few years ago at a reunion that she no longer uses email, full stop. A nephew, after discovering messages from me sitting in his SPAM folder, finally replied by asking me to consider other ways to communicate with him. He offered instant messaging or social media accounts such as Instagram. I was tempted to cheekily ask if an old fashioned letter might be acceptable; I suspect, though, that wouldn’t have helped me much in the credibility department — a place I probably haven’t inhabited in his eyes for probably 10 years.
A different nephew prefers text messages. He has absolutely no problem carrying on full thoughts and conversations, as I chronically stumble to reply. By the time I respond to a comment or question of his, he’s already written five or six new ones. I hopelessly struggle to keep up with him but ultimately never do. At some point he’ll finish with “Take care!,” and that’ll be that. I may have contributed three complete thoughts. Good ‘ol Uncle Martin
Gorgeous’ daughter prefers text messages also, but she fortunately takes pity on me and faithfully responds to my emails. I nevertheless can tell that it’s not her favored way to communicate (Hi, A).
I get it: email is tiresome for many.
Speaking of letters, do people really even write them anymore? I send cards with what I believe are meaningful notes inside, but I suspect it’s been quite a while since I’ve written an actual long-form letter to anyone. It’s tragically a dying art, at least for me. Perhaps it will one day be an offering at a community or extended learning course: “The Craft of the Hand-Written Letter: A Practical Introduction. Three Credits, $85 (stationary and envelopes not included)”
Ah, but I’ve digressed, haven’t I? Sorry. I found the above picture on another blog and couldn’t pass up the chance to use it here. Do me a favor and visit the good folk at Good Morning Gloucester so they don’t think of me as a complete thief who can’t even be bothered to write them an email asking for permission. Oh, wait…
I must submit to you, however, that I am mourning any possible decline in email use. For years now it’s been my preferred way to stay in touch with people. I’m only speaking of personal email here, not those ugly SPAM messages or business-related missives. Unlike instant or text messaging, which screams “Hey! Respond to me now no matter what you’re doing at the moment!,” email is non-intrusive. You can write it knowing that you won’t be interrupting someone eating dinner, watching a show, taking a nap, or heaven forbid some other activity that I really don’t want to know about (Uncle Max, seriously, just tell me that you’re otherwise occupied). Email is passive, and that’s why I still prefer it.
I have tried all of those other “messaging” alternatives, especially the ones on social media sites. I dislike their message protocols because I can never figure out how paragraphs work. I hit ENTER thinking it will go to a new paragraph, but the message instead is sent off to a recipient before I’m even finished writing it. This design is intentional; it’s based the old KISS Principle of management (“Keep It Simple, Stupid”). If you can’t say it in two or three sentences, don’t bother.
So for all you email haters, just know that I can change and roll with the times if I am forced to do so. I’ll respond to your various texts and instants, and I’ll be as brief as I’m apparently supposed to now be. But just understand that my mind joyfully operates in full sentences, multi-syllable words, and punctuation which fits neatly into paragraphs.
TBF, I don’t care if you look at what I write as TL;DR. LOL and ROTFL as much as you wish.
And for the rest of you kindred, verbose spirits out there? Write me an email! I promise I’ll respond.
Until next time…