By Hope Harris
I have a best friend with whom I’ve spent years and years talking. We’ve talked over dinner, at the beach, walking, driving, laughing, sometimes even arguing, and talking on the phone. But then about a year ago when we were having dinner and in the middle of a conversation, she stopped listening and talking, and looked at her phone and started texting.
Texting relays important information; something that needs immediate attention. The little ziiiit sound of a message being delivered or sent is Pavlovian; apparently impossible to ignore (a friend was texting my friend at that particular moment because she was at Fairway, undecided about whether to buy arugula or the mixed spring greens…) Emergency!
I was never an avid fan of my cell phone (though I realized I had to have if I wanted to continue in the world), but was particularly adverse to texting. Except to say “Help, I’m being held captive” or “I’m out of gas and 20 miles from the nearest station.” I saw no use for it. Wasn’t e-mail sufficient means to communicate? Why was everyone in such a hurry? What in the name of God was the rush?
In fairness, I believe in conversation. Growing up, I learned to talk at the dinner table. Later I took to analysis and talk therapy like a duck to water. I wrote and read books. I dated writers and even married a poet. My idea of the perfect vacation was a writers’ conference where people met for cocktails and spent hours and hours in conversation. I worked in publishing. A smart phone, where nimble thumbs were declared evidence of evolution, seemed to me, oxymoronic. And texting! OMG! texting, in which “conversation” was reduced to five words, and little things called emojis expressed “emotion”, horrified me.
But I knew I had to catch up. My good friend was someone who was now impatient with sentences that had beginnings and middles and ends. Everyone I knew was texting, pushing the elevator button frantically when it wouldn’t open immediately, even though it takes time T I M E for an elevator to get from the fifteenth floor to the first.
What were we doing with our lives, our brains, our imaginations, our memory? To my friend, and most other friends, it was clear I was a dinosaur. A woman growing older, resenting age. I insisted, against a collective imperative, to hold onto and use my land line. Sometimes, if friends still had a land line for emergencies, its tape said to call on their cell. I was pretty sure they were in the house, listening, refusing to pick up.
My friend started bringing her phone everywhere, especially to restaurants, putting the phone on the table next to her plate. It ziiiited and beeped on and off and instantly she picked it up; an action that interrupted whatever she or I or anyone else was saying or doing. She HAD to answer its siren song. She was addicted.
I railed against texting. I railed against i-pads because you couldn’t make notes (pencils and pens were fast disappearing). I hated the fact that I was a prisoner to a technology that was constantly stalling or frozen and I had to call a geek to fix it or wait days for him to come.
I was in a vast sea of technology where everyone around me was texting and calling one another back and forth on their cell phones, buying bigger and better and FASTER devices, and I was beginning to lose heart and energy enough to even try to swim to shore.
But somehow I managed and then the most amazing thing happened: my 18 year old granddaughter asked if we could talk. She had a problem. Something longer than what she could put in a text or e-mail, and a confusing morass of emotions for which there were no emojis. Talk seemed necessary so she put down her phone and we sat and talked. We talked for an hour and then again the next day for another hour, and when we had to part, we started calling one another on our land lines and now we talk and talk and talk. And listen. We discovered, despite the difference in our ages, how much we understand one another, how much fun it is to talk. And over the course of our conversations, her problems have been solved and I have a new best friend.