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Saturday, July 12, 2014
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Published: Friday, 4/12/2013

Losing the ability to converse naturally is nothing to LOL about

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Spring break 2013 could have been described like this in text talk among teens I know:

“hey — hi”

“whts up? [what’s up?]”

“nm hbu? [not much, how about you?]”

“wht did u do on break? — went 2 cabin”

“oh ik [i know] where that is — Wht else did u do?”

“hung out — r u ready 4 school?”

“no — y do u say tht?”

“cuz — well g2g [got to go]”

“ok — ttyl [talk to you later]”

Can we talk? I mean, can we have an actual conversation that doesn’t need to be translated? Those of us past a certain age can. We can go on and on about spring break excursions.

We catch up with friends on the phone, swap news at a soccer game, hold court over coffee, dissect current events during dinner. We gossip, share, question, and commiserate with each other face to face.

But shooting the breeze is going the way of black and white television. Talking without tapping is passé. Conversing for no good reason is time-wasting communication, argues New York Times blogger Nick Bilton.

“Some people are so rude,” he wrote recently. “Really, who sends an email or text message that just says, ‘Thank you’? Who leaves a voice-mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?”

Me, me, and me. But I’m not a cranky curmudgeon — yet. I don’t grump with the grizzled about the newfangled devices young folks communicate with these days.

I like the convenience of transmitting information quickly and conveniently. I tap and text away with the best of them to pass along news that can’t wait. What working parent who juggles multiple schedules doesn’t?

It’s about being connected with anyone anytime. I get it, Mr. Bilton. But I also relate to the old AT&T commercial that urged people to pick up a phone and “reach out and touch someone” for no good reason other than to “just say hi.”

Idle chats, looking another human in the eye, and connecting through the art of conversation are among life’s endearing pastimes — or used to be. But interfacing directly with a person requires active listening, observing, and reacting for meaningful dialogue.

The process does take quite a bit of effort. Genuine human interaction involves thoughtful give and take conveyed in real time. Why bother with all that trouble when there are social media to keep it superficial?

“idk [I don’t know]” “brb [be right back]” “jk [just kidding]” Perfect. Digital communication is so much easier to transmit than getting bogged down with what comes between hello and goodbye.

Short, abbreviated text messages don’t waste your time, so you can read more short, abbreviated text messages. Relationships don’t have to be complex. Not with texting.

Breaking up doesn’t have to be hard to do. “Sry [sorry]” Type. Send. Done. Virtual contact is wonderfully detached. Human contact is fraught with risks, including attachment.

Texting gives people the courage to type what never could be said to someone’s face. It gives some the temerity to be cruel, profane, anonymous. In middle school, texting makes bullies braver to inflict damage with impunity.

This is the downside of technology that gets away from us, enslaves us, diminishes us as social beings. Digital communication should complement discourse between humans, not supplant it.

We don’t even have to articulate why something makes us happy; we just click “like.” We have become the tools of our tools, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.

We’re afflicted with a social disorder that connects us at all times — but not our humanity.

The high-tech affliction is especially prevalent among young people. They are hopelessly hooked to the rectangular devices affixed permanently to the palm of their hands. A whole generation has lost the ability to relate to real-life experiences without texting.

Apocalypse couldn’t tear them away from the small screens they stare at alone, with friends, on dates, at games, at the beach, while shopping, in restaurants, while sightseeing. They’re in constant contact with whoever else is saying nothing 24/7 on their iPhone, iPad, and the like.

Yet they can’t converse with the BFF [best friend forever] sitting next to them, or initiate face to face discussions about spring break. Their communication is condensed gibberish. Type. Send.

Can we talk? Take a break from texting? L8R? LOL.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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