Short Rant About Tweeting, Texting and Email

So here we are, me and a friend in a city I won’t name, trying to make arrangements to see one another after a long hiatus. We make date number 1. It involves dinner. After an event I have done, with perhaps some other people. All of this has to be gotten into a text because my friend no longer uses her phone for phoning. Kind of like a 15 year old, only she’s in her fifties. I have to beg to talk to her on the phone, because I simply am not good enough at texting to collapse all of the explanations into the sufficient number of words which I undeftly enter with my two fingers. Grudgingly, she accedes and we chat. It’s actually nice, warm, cozy, voice to voice, you know like it used to be.

Then something happens and the plan changes — family problems. Another text. Another attempt at organization and arrangements, all quick and concise in mini-sound bites. We make a plan. She cancels again, this time because of a meeting. Texts me, wants to know can I do it another time, gives some ideas which are not convenient. I want to explain why. She’s my friend after all. Silly me.
Then she texts, explaining in cryptic prose more family problems. I would like to commiserate but because I am not 15, or 50, and have never broken up with someone via text, I am stymied. A brusque text of “So sorry,” seems not enough. But how can I find out what’s going on via these tweet like exchanges?
Back to the texting. I inquire, explain I have been sick — want to explain why I find it difficult to meet in such and such a place. I want to express my concern for her problems, ask for details. But am confined to more tweet like sound bites. I’m actually beginning to lose my sympathy since all I feel is frustration. How do you carry on a human friendship via texts, and tweets, and what has now gone way beyond shorthand.
I think of excuses to explain her behavior. She’s very busy (so am I). She has kids, (so have I, except granted her’s are younger). But all I can come up with is that this damn technology, for all its helpfulness, has become a curse. It adds more time and certainly more carpel tunnel. You can’t get into an actual exchange because you can’t as easily get the information you need as quickly as you need it or share it when you need to. You have no audio or visual cues to guide you to tell you if someone is kidding, in distress, nasty, playful, sarcastic. And you are out there, alone, with messages to which you cannot respond in an exchange with people who no longer seem to want to interact.

Here’s the worst case I’ve dealt with. A friend discovered she had cancer. She needed surgery, was going to get chemo. It was very big, bad news. She had to share it with her two children — one of whom lived in Washington State, one of them in Paris. She lived in New York City. Her plan, she told me, was to email them at about 9pm her time. I was horrified. Email? That you have cancer? That would mean that her son would get the news in the afternoon, at work, and would probably want to call her and she might be asleep. And he would have to deal with this news all by himself. Her daughter, would get the email in what was her morning, and again not want to wake her mother in the middle of the night with questions. I asked my friend why she would even think of doing such a thing. She said, she found it easier. If she emailed, and then let them think about it, she didn’t have to deal with the difficulty of their emotional responses.

Which is precisely what all this technology is creating, emotionless communication that is more about individual convenience, ease, and avoidance, then the messiness of human relationships. It’s fine to tweet, and text, and email when it’s about simple, instrumental instructions. But get more complicated and it gets more and more frustrating.
I did have one really refreshing experience lately. Another colleague and I were trying to make arrangements to meet (ah these meetings!!). It went back and forth but each time we emailed there was an additional detail or glitch. Finally, he emails and writes, ‘It sounds like we have reached the limitation of email and need to go old school for a phone call.
I am in my office.”
And we had an actual conversation. And actually met.

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