Saturday, August 7, 2010

Face to Phone

Three-Dimensional Conversation. I'm copyrighting this phrase and defining it as something nearly extinct in our current culture. It revolves around two people talking to each other while in the proximity of one another. Its not the easiest thing to do, which may be why it's become a dieing art-form. It is so much easier to tell people you're mad at them while hiding behind a computer. You never need to see the hurt you inflict or be around for the consequences. On the down side -- the same holds true for the opposite. If you tell someone something nice, you're not there to see them react and bask in your words. Imagine Cyrano be Bergerac having to text message Christian what to tell Roxanne; and poor Christian trying to de-code it, "What the heck does 'I heart u' mean?" I may be old fashion, but I believe that in order to have a conversation, you need to be face-to-face with the person to whom you are speaking. In order to truly communicate, you must see the reaction of your words on another individual, as well as read the un-spoken body language that accompanies what they are saying. I'm no exception to the recent onslaught of new ways we've developed to misunderstand each other. Instant messaging, texting, tweeting (I still haven't figured out what this is, but I hear its all the rage), social networks, blogging, and even the seemingly now arcane e-mail give us infinite ways to talk without speaking. In my house there are almost daily instances where someone is being misunderstood or taken the wrong way or out of context. As it turns out, nuances like sarcasm don't translate well to a text message. My poor daughter and her friends have spent half this summer mad at each other because someone misunderstood something somewhere in the course of someone else's instant messages. I can't even conceive how the typical 14 year-old can keep it all straight. Often I'll see her at the computer at eleven o'clock at night IMing three or four friends simultaneously and grabbing her phone to text a few more. This can go on for hours, and no one is saying a word. The temptation to live like that is strong. Impersonal chatting is simple and uncluttered. How often I grab my phone and text someone only minutes after being with them? It's certainly easier to articulate and craft what you want to say, and write it to someone. Especially for me because I have a knack in conversation to let my mouth outrun my brain. Then what comes out is a garbled mess of unfinished thoughts and incomplete mutterings that end up sounding something like "I'm coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs." Truth be told, talking to one another is a hugely intimate and personal form of interaction. How else could we develop the secret ways we talk to certain people? 'Inside jokes' are those subtleties we reserve for those whom we share something special with. In other words -- those we can really comfortably converse with. In my house the medicine cabinet and the glove box have forever been interchangeable because of a goofy laugh-filled conversation from many years back. My closest friends from high-school knew that when we held up the three fingers on our right hand that it was time to move (bear with this sub-story: Three fingers held up to the left bicep makes the letter 'E'. When a group of us would congregate at a locker and then move down the halls together, we'd resemble a moving blood-clot, or embolism. So the 'E' was to say, "Let's get this clot moving." Admittably, we were an odd bunch.). Those board-members at work that can't even seem to get out of their own way are toast people. Only certain people understand this sub-language by design. These are the people we feel closest to and most comfortable with. Cramming a story, emotion, or news flash into 160 characters on a phone isn't easy or practical. Don't get me wrong, every form of communication has its place. Go ahead and text that you'll be home at quarter after three, but when you need to let someone know how you feel don't try to find a way to fit or abbreviate something like Cyrano's "A kiss, when all is said, what is it? .....A secret that to mouth, not ear, is whispered," into a text message. Talk to them.