Let’s Talk

Apparently, talking on the phone has become a thing of the past. Young people won’t pick up the phone anymore and consider phone callers rude, according to an article I read recently. Much better to text, because you can formulate your thoughts without being put on the spot. One woman said one friendship consisted only of texting, and she was happy with that. I had to wonder what would happen if she and her friend met face to face. Would one say something the other didn’t like? Would they be uncomfortable? Or would they just sit side by side and text?

That’s what I saw two young men doing at a restaurant recently. This is a common phenomenon now, but it still puzzles me. If I meet a friend for coffee or a meal, we’re often the only ones talking; everyone else (that is, younger than us) is staring at their computers or phones. Way back when I was young, it would be akin to people meeting for dinner and each one reading a different book. It would have been considered rude if not strange. Isn’t the point of getting together to share stories, talk about our lives?

I was with a group of friends, all of us in our 70s, and we were complaining to each other about how fast technology changes, how we don’t understand it and how frustrating that can be. Our conversation was lively and humorous, flowing from one topic to another. I can’t imagine how it could have been reduced to texting. I guess we would have been using the LOL phrase a lot (or is that passe? Let me know) or the laugh emoji. But laughing—in person—can be infectious and, from what I read, good for your mental and physical health.

It’s not just talking that seems to have fallen out of fashion. I read an article about how Gen Z workers are not comprehending email communications with the older millennials. Gen Z (those under age 25) grew up writing communications as minimal as possible, which often used emojis and as little, if no, punctuation. In one workplace, a Gen Xer was horrified when a millennial coworker used a period in an email to denote the end of the sentence. The Gen Xer didn’t know how to interpret that. Did the period indicate a rebuke? Or did it signify something else?

On my cell phone the comma has been relegated to the second screen for texting. Apparently, it’s not needed anymore because most people only use periods and only when absolutely necessary. When I read communiques on NextDoor, the popular neighborhood online social networking service, I often have to guess where one sentence starts and another ends. Since I’ve spent almost my entire working life writing and editing other people’s writing with the goal of making it as clear and understandable as possible, seeing a run-on sentence is like hearing nails on a chalkboard.

I admit that the younger generations have superior technology skills. But while I can’t figure out how to silence my cell phone when I get messages, I can carry on an impromptu conversation (without checking my computer), write a convincing letter to my legislator, make an understandable comment on NextDoor and comprehend articles that use complex words and phrases. I love language and won’t be giving it up soon.

6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk

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  1. I can identify with so much of this. I did read an article somewhere that said ending a text with a period is considered rude by many. Go figure. I do prefer texts to phone calls, however. I’ve never liked making phone calls, for fear I will rudely interrupt someone. They might be sleeping, or enjoying a meal, or busily working, or have guests, etc. (And on more thatn one occasion I’ve procrastinated for days because the task involved making a phone call.) A text, on the other hand, is something they can respond to when it’s convenient for them. However, I most definitely would carry on an in-person conversation without the presence of phones. As for the younger generations … they don’t even learn cursive handwriting anymore. (On the other hand, let’s not discuss my keyboarding ability.)

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    1. Susan, I know what you mean about texting being easier than phoning someone, especially if it’s a short conversation (“where should we meet for lunch?”). My preferred way of communication is a letter–which, in these days, means an email–but not so many people do that anymore. I remember reading someplace that Emily Dickinson, known for her shyness, preferred talking to people with the door half open, so she didn’t see them and they didn’t see her, but they could still converse.
      At this point, my keyboarding ability is better than my handwriting, which has degenerated so badly that I can hardly read my own writing. I guess I’m grateful for keyboards.

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  2. Ahhh, Kath! I love people who love to write letters (or letter-emails) and who know how to converse, who understand the joy of communication–real conversation with words and no emojis. I love texting with my grandkids because, for the most part, that’s how they communicate, and I care about them. I love the ease of it and the quick response time (usually–sometimes I am texting into a void). I don’t like to make or receive phone calls (I’m with Susan on this one), but I do love setting up FaceTime dates. Like you, I’ve spent my adult life caring about and promoting writing and grammar and clear communication, but I know I’m a dying breed. I no longer expect good grammar on sites like NextDoor (I quit FaceBook, another source of messages from the illiterate), and given my background, I do make judgments about people based on their spelling and punctuation. (In a text message, this is where I would insert an eye-rolling emoji.)

    I appreciate your willingness to read articles about these things and report back: Using a period is insulting?! Huh! I can’t bear to read the articles. If not for the beloved young people in my life, I would withdraw completely from technology that has little value to me. I have withdrawn from social media that has no value to me and annoys the hell out of me.

    And here’s the flip side for us aging lovers of communication: We get to enjoy real conversation with others who enjoy real conversation. We get to sit at a table with good friends and look each other in the eye and know love and honesty and connection. I also know young people who are capable of this (some of them the grandkids I also text with). So I withdraw more from what matters less and engage more with what matters most.

    Thank you for this thoughtful and informative and well-written post.

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    1. Verna, thanks for your thoughtful and warm response. Yes, we’re a dying breed, but there are still enough of us out there to appreciate the language–written or otherwise. Glad you’re one of them. And I’m heartened to hear that your grandchildren are good at communicating–even with texts.
      Like you, I am irritated by those who don’t take the time to make their writing (I’m thinking of NextDoor) coherent. I just read one from someone complaining about the ice in front of a restaurant they visited. Someone else pointed out that they got the name of the restaurant wrong. Seems a pretty basic thing. Maybe we’re just getting tired and sloppy.
      I’m still on Facebook (connecting with some of my nieces) but I like your philosophy of figuring out what matters most and then pursuing that.

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  3. Oh, lord—you hit a nerve with this post, Kathy. It seems our culture is shifting from one based on relationships and all the risks and rewards entailed to some kind of Morse code version of human interaction. Myself, I prefer to talk with people directly over the phone (or better still, in person). I have friends who never answer their phones, however, and in some cases seldom check their email, either. They respond only to text messages. I’m currently having a difficult time getting the attention of the woman who is taking care of my dog while I’m in the UK, because she doesn’t appear to check either her email or her WhatsApp messages. I’ve had to ask a Colorado friend who does to text her on my behalf. I find texting convenient, but severely limited. It’s good for making arrangements (your “where should we meet for lunch,” for example), but it’s woefully inadequate for substantial exchanges about anything meaningful. I have a 52-year-old brother who communicates almost exclusively in emojis. I consider this, and confining one’s communications to text messages, even if these are more expressive than just emojis, akin to a diet of gruel and toastwater: tasteless and utterly lacking in nourishment.

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    1. Jennifer, you said it perfectly–a Morse code of human interaction. Not very satisfying at all. I too have friends who insist on texting only. As you said, you can’t say much in a text. This all leaves one hungry for real human interaction, as we’re starving, as you say, from lack of nourishment. I sometimes wonder if we’re all crawling into our own holes, because life is too painful at times and too challenging. I hope not.

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