DON'T TALK TO ME
by Nancy RechtmanDo you remember a time when phones actually rang with the same universal BRRRRRNNNG when someone called you? And the phone was plugged into a wall, with a long, knotted-up cord that meant, in spite of its length, that you were forced to talk with your head mere inches from the phone because it was impossible to untangle the tightly wound cord in order to move away from its base? The advent of the cordless phone was a liberating invention, meaning we could actually move around the house while cooking, going through the mail, or checking on the kids. Of course we did all of these tasks with our head crooked at extremely uncomfortable angles, greatly increasing the income of chiropractors across the country. Next came the cell phone. Very useful for road trips when there was no rest stop for miles and a tire decided to suddenly go flat. Also useful for urgent business when we were away from home. Certainly a great way to check in with the kids. Businesspeople saw cell phones as ways to stay connected no matter where they were. But initially, the rest of us figured cell phones were going to be just for short chats, ways to check in with each other as we flitted from one place to another.
But things soon changed. Phones initially purchased for convenience and safety concerns soon became a mandatory status symbol. Soon, every teenager demanded a cell phone. Now, there are cell phones marketed to even the tiniest of tots, lest, heaven forbid, they would be excluded from this latest frenzied juggernaut. All kinds of phone plans evolved, buying multiple ring tones became de rigueur, and the cost of keeping in touch skyrocketed. Soon, it wasn't enough to just talk on the phone, you had to be able to e-mail people, check on your stocks, get the latest weather report, take photos of newsworthy events, and order your latte before actually arriving face-to-face with your friendly local barista.
Now comes the latest in the communication - or lack of - evolution. Text-messaging. If you are over 25, this may not be something you do on a regular basis. But it has become the new way our kids are talking to each other. By avoiding talking to each other. No one wants to actually hear their friends' voices anymore and be subjected to lengthy discussions. Instead, they want to sit there, thumbs flying on the tiny dial pads, saying things like "TTYL" or "LYLAS" or "C U L8R." Deep, meaningful sharing. No wonder writing scores are plummeting - when the longest sentence you write has two words (which aren't really words), how can you write a two-page essay on anything?
What the heck is going on here? We recently had to find a cell phone plan that had unlimited texting because, I was informed, no one wants to talk to each other anymore. That is so yesterday. Our kids' generation communicates electronically - wired 24/7, whether to their phones or their computers, or just playing video games side-by-side, avoiding any actual human interaction, staying safely in their own, virtual worlds.
I can't be sure that this is a bad thing, but it doesn't seem like a very good omen for the evolution of our species when talking has become not only optional, but even a bit of a nuisance. My new vision of the not-so-distant future is a time where people live in their own little bubbles, pressing buttons to make it seem as if there are other people around them, or playing with virtual pets that never require actual food or companionship. Pressing buttons that make it appear that they are living in some fantasy location that they have seen on TV or in a movie, even if they are actually in a cramped studio apartment in the inner city. Their overworked thumbs would finally have a rest as they will no longer even have the urge to communicate with actual human beings about their day or about anything at all. They will only need their virtual pals. Can you hear me now?
Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.