My dear old granny was a spritely 97 years and 7 months old exactly when she decided she’d had enough and laid down for the long sleep last month. It must have been incredible for her to witness all the amazing advances in technology that became commonplace during her lifetime. The horseless carriage, the flying machine, the wireless, the telephone, the television, jet aircraft, rockets, space travel and just about every other major advance all became accepted into everyday life while she was alive. She was also around for the introduction of the fax machine, the mobile phone and the internet but by then she was already too old to be bothered with such new-fangled nonsense. She believed to the last that writing a letter was far more personal and valuable than sending an email could ever be, and she was the last person I could reach ONLY by telephone or post.
A few days ago my kids asked me to sit down and watch something called The Elders React on YouTube. These videos show older people being exposed to new technology while cameras record their reactions. I must admit that watching people with grey hair and thick glasses shuffle their dentures while playing Flappy Birds was hilarious, and my kids thought it was even funnier to watch me play the stupid game afterwards while giving them a crash course in old-fashioned cursing. I expect my granny’s granny would have provided similar entertainment had she been asked to manoeuvre a horseless carriage between sticks at high speed.
After The Elders React, we watched an episode of Kids React, a YouTube programme in which five to 13-year-old kids are exposed to ancient technology. In this episode, they were introduced to an old dial telephone. The programme-makers just put it down in front of them and asked them what they thought it was. The younger ones had no clue. Some of the older ones said they’d seen them in old movies. None of them knew about dial tones or busy signals. When they were shown how to “dial” a number there was much tongue chewing and kiddy cursing as their fingers kept slipping out of the holes. “That’s going to take a long time,” one of them said. When asked to send a text message with it, most of them gave it a serious try. Even teenagers tried. When told there were no text messages back then, one of them said: “So how did you.. oh, you had to CALL them!” (Google ‘The Elders React’ and ‘Kids React’).
The norm now is to avoid talking to people as much as possible. Even the older ones among us prefer to send messages by BB, WhatsApp, Viber, Skype or Facebook and we’ll even email someone before we consider actually calling them. The problem is most of the phone networks do not provide very well for this requirement anymore, so often we can’t get through and we go back to messaging. When messages get delayed we sometimes get a “yes” in reply to a question we were expecting a “no” for and confusion reigns. Then we end up in arguments with people we love because we say things in hastily typed messages that get taken the wrong way. How many times have you been asked why you’re angry by text message when you’re not? This is predominantly a boy/girl problem but it happens between friends and colleagues too. Smileys and Emoticons were invented to lend tone to our written words and replace body language but they haven’t worked.
We kid ourselves that we use text messages because it’s easier and quicker, but if you think about it for most of us typing the words is more difficult and time-consuming than saying them. The truth is, we are avoiding talking about people and our lives are worse for it. When we call we have to go through the pesky pleasantries like “How are you?” before we get to the point. By text, we don’t need to do that and I think this is damaging relationships and eroding social skills, especially among the young who have never known any different – although they are not avoiding anything, they are just doing what we taught them.
Make it a rule; if the message you are typing is more than ten words long, call the person. Better still, use three words only: “Can you talk?” I believe it will greatly enrich and simplify your life.
It’s too late for the kids, though. It would be like my granny’s granny trying to tell her she should send a telegram instead of using the telephone. RIP Nan.