Wednesday, October 21, 2015

I Think We Need To Have A Talk

As a society, we need to talk more. With our mouths, not our text messages, our computers, our Facebook pages, our twitter accounts. We need face to face, or at least phone to ear conversations. We need to hear each others' voices, see each others reactions, understand each others' happiness or sadness conveyed by their eyes, their body language. Quite simply, emojis and LOLs don't always cut it. It's easy to miss humor and emotion, and just as easy to hide passive-agressiveness and anger, when you're communicating behind a device. I've been in all too many disagreements in which I text or message something smiling, knowing it's a joke, only to get an angry response from the person on the other end who understandable has no way to tell if I'm teasing good naturedly or making a smart remark. And don't get me started on the trouble caused by good old autocorrect....

Most people know that, in my adult life at least, I've never been a fan of talking on the phone. Partly, it's because I'm afraid to call people and interrupt their dinner/quiet time/whatever they're doing that's not talking to me.  Partly it's because I'm an awkward phone talker and I hate sitting around having to verbally um and uh when there's a pause in the conversation because I'm afraid they don't want to talk to me for some reason, nor do I really enjoy obvious small talk when one or the other of you feels the need to fill the dead space on the line.  In addition, my social anxiety makes even texting people who aren't my best friends nerve wracking - do they really want to hear from me; am I texting too much and annoying them; do I look lonely and desperate just because I like to communicate frequently? You can only imagine how it goes as I hear the phone ringing, wondering what's going through the head of the person on the other end who may or may not actually answer. The funny thing is, I don't remember having this as a kid or teenager or even young adult. It makes me wonder, if we talked with each other on the phone more often, if it was still the norm, would I still have such phone anxiety?

The thing is, I do enjoy chatting with friends, catching up on their lives, catching them up on mine. I also enjoy when both parties involved in the conversation are actually giving their full attention to... the conversation.  And considering I've seen people driving, putting on makeup, drinking a coffee, and texting, simultaneously, I'm pretty sure that if I'm texting you there's at least an 80 percent chance that I'm not always receiving your full attention every time. Nor, in fairness, does it require me to give mine.

A while ago, I wrote a post called "Everything's OK", in which I explained my extreme dislike of the work "OK" as a response to texts. I'd like to reiterate a piece of that post that I think nicely applies to this one.  As I asked my readers to do in that post, I'd like you to imagine this conversation taking place either on the phone, or particularly, in person:

You: How's your day?
Them: OK
You: So I was thinking this weekend maybe we could go to the beach (go to dinner, a movie, take belly dancing lessons, whatever you want)?
Them: K
You: Saturday would probably be better than Sunday for me because Sunday morning I'm learning how to tango dance with an elephant and then Sunday afternoon, I'm getting my appendix removed. In fact I'm doing it myself because my doctor isn't covered by my insurance anymore.
Them: KK

I realize this is an extreme example, but I've had some conversations via text that aren't all that far off. I actually sometimes reply with things like, "so I'm going to run away and join the circus", just to see if they're actually paying attention. If they reply OK, they clearly aren't.  It happens all too often. Yet if this conversation were in person, or even on the phone, I have to imagine that at some point, it might occur to them that they're not actually paying attention, or that I've fully lost my marbles. In either case, they may want to listen up and provide some type of appropriate response. 

More and more these days, I miss the excitement of getting a phone call from someone other than a telemarketer.  You know, someone who can actually pronounce my name on the first try.  It's amazing how, in the last 15 years or so, we've gone from "oh that must be a friend!" when the phone rings, to "Must be a telemarketer, my friends don't call me, better not answer."   I miss hearing friends' voices.  After hours of staring at a screen of one form or another, we now have to do it all evening if we want to communicate with anyone that's not in the same room.  I miss the idea that, if we weren't home, we weren't home. People didn't expect a turn around time of 30 seconds.  If they couldn't get ahold of you, they figured you were out, hopefully having fun, they left a message, and you called when you got home. Nor were you getting five people reaching out at the same time, trying to juggle them all, hoping you didn't type the response that was suppose to go to your mom to your client or your doctor instead.  Sure, three way calling was exciting as a teenager, but unless we intentionally choreographed that, we talked to one person at a time, when we actually had the time. That allowed us to give our full attention to both the things we were doing when not on the phone, and the conversations when we were. And because we weren't inundated with texts and emails and push notifications, we actually seemed more willing, and interested in, receiving and returning those communications. 

And when we really wanted to talk to people, at least those that lived nearby, we made plans.
People lived out there in the world, not in our phones. And, when we were out making those plans, we didn't constantly stop participating in that to answer three texts, four tweets, two Facebook comments and several emails. Getting together for coffee wasn't an opportunity to check in and post pictures of your latte on instagram. It was an opportunity to actually get away from day to day business and spend time with someone you wanted to visit with. 

Now don't get me wrong, I love social media for connecting. I truly do. Hell, I'm blogging this online right now! And for those friends and family who live far away, across the country or the world, it's made connecting a thousand times easier and cheaper.  I'm not suggesting we eliminate it.  But I think we need more balance. If someone is local, instead of exchanging 50 texts, find a time to meet up. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but do something. Meet for coffee for 20 minutes. Something. Before technology we didn't lose touch for weeks or months. We made time for calls and getting together. Because it was the only way to keep up with friends and loved ones.  As it's gotten easier to connect online, we've made less time to connect in person.  And it makes me sad. And I miss my friends.  

So with the month of Thanksgiving coming up, I've decided that I'm going to focus on people in 3D as much as I can. After all, the people in my life are what I'm most thankful for. I promise I won't start calling you at all random hours like Jake from State Farm. But let's start making plans. And if we can't, let's chat. I don't care if it's a phone chat or a Facetime or Google Hangout or whatever, but let's litreally listen to each other.  Let's get back to truly getting to know each other, to seeing each other, to actively participating in our conversations. Let's stop missing each other, and start connecting again. 

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