Jim and I are fairly resistant to new technologies, always hanging on to the last before falling head long into the lap of the latest trends. Our little computer was teased on the cyber playground for being the only PC on the block who wasn’t allowed to play on the internet. We were still purchasing phone cards and calling collect while the rest of the world whizzed by on their cell phone, gawking at us as though we were on display in a Natural History Museum. “Observe twentieth century man in his natural habitat, the phone booth. Note his horrified expression as the operator, a now extinct creature, explains the interstate calling rate.” Just recently I was out to dinner with friends, feeling ever-so current with my portable talking device tucked into my purse—I even have an in-car charger now—when I heard a strange pecking sound coming from the back seat. I turned to see my always-up-on-the-latest-everything friend texting! I couldn’t believe my eyes.
While Jim and I were in England several years ago, we observed British youngsters frantically banging on their cell phones with their fingertips, but frankly I thought they were having some strange sort of fit, perhaps an early symptom of mad cow disease. Since then, of course, I have learned better, but still I assumed that texting was something only teenagers did to avoid making eye contact with anyone over the age of 25. Now here was my contemporary clicking away. I was baffled, being the twentieth century gal that I am (and frankly even the twentieth century was a bit ahead of me. I am the kind of person who googles maple syrup farms and pick-your-own blueberry fields in an attempt to keep alive my inner Laura Ingalls Wilder. True, this does require internet service, but hey—no one’s perfect). My friend—I won’t mention her name, let’s just call her Carrie Ross—went on to explain the glories of texting. She used small words and spoke slowly, so I think I caught most of what she was saying. Texting is really convenient. You don’t have to have a whole conversation. It isn’t as socially intrusive as talking on the phone. I nodded in seeming agreement and inwardly decided that her new metallic purse had affected her thinking.
Then one day my cell phone made a noise I had never heard before, while I innocently drove along listening to my iPod in the car with the kids. (I am starting to see that perhaps I am not the prairie girl I once believed myself to be, but come on. iPods are really, really cool. Especially with the windows down and P!nk belting out “So What” while you and the kiddles sing along. Am I right or am I right?). I had received my first text message. Slowly over the months to come, I have received more and more texts and have begun to send my own little messages in a bottle across the great ocean of electrical waves that surround us. And, I have to admit, my nameless friend (Carrie) was right. It is nice to send a quick hello or needed info without having to actually speak to the person. But of late, I have begun to wonder if my practices are in keeping with my deeper convictions. (This epiphany came whilst I was listening to my mom on one line and checking my voice mail on another. Pretty low, right? I quickly confessed to my mom and vowed never to do it again.) Sure, it is cleaner and simpler to send off a text without actually having to go through all the entanglements of greeting someone and enquiring about their day, but isn’t that missing the point a bit? Isn’t communication supposed to be about entangling ourselves in one another lives? Today a friend called (not the nameless Carrie) and really needed to talk. Normally I would chat as long as the cordless phone allowed for my wandering around the house “accomplishing” things. I would have listened as long as it didn’t cost me anything. But this time I asked myself “What would Ma Ingalls do?” In an act of extreme self-control, I sat and had a real conversation, in all it’s messy splendor. (By the end, I actually had to resort to talking on a phone with a cord, something that went out soon after smoke signals and the Pony Express.) So the next time your fingertips get itchy, remember that simple and clean isn’t always best. GTG.