“Why don’t we talk on the phone anymore?” Anne and I say to each other when we do talk. When we’re sitting across a table from each other playing cribbage and chatting about life and books and movies we’ve loved and places we’ve been. Across a table from each other, we never stop talking.
But we don’t pick up the phone to talk anymore. Not every day. Two, three, five times a day. Not the way we used to. Not the way we did for years and years and years.
We shared every thought when we were young. Something one of our children said. Something we saw, thought, ate. Important things. The most unimportant things.
I’d be cleaning up the kitchen, the phone wedged between my right ear and right shoulder, the long coiled cord stretched as far as it could go. And there was nothing off-limits. Memories and dreams? Yes, we shared these, but mostly it was a run-on conversation about whatever was happening right then.
I miss this. I miss meandering, getting lost in a conversation, one thing leading to another, leading to places we simply do not get to anymore. Unless we are physically together, at a table, in a car.
Texting is the reason for this, because as everyone else does, we text now. It’s quick. It’s efficient. We say what we have to say.
“How was your weekend?”
“Weekend was great. How are you?”
“I’m well. Flying to Tampa Tuesday.”
And that’s it. Done. No blue highways, no back roads and quiet lanes, text is the interstate of communication, fast and direct, and if this prevents us from discovering the hidden gems we used to run into by chance — “You’re going to Tampa?” leading to talking about an uncle in Tampa or “Didn’t we meet you and John in Tampa?” leading to “No. That was Jupiter. We were on the West Coast,” leading to a geography lesson, leading to “Remember that great restaurant where I got that delicious wine?” — if this doesn’t happen anymore, well, really, so what?
I wouldn’t go back to before to preserve meandering. I wouldn’t give up my iPhone to return to pre-texting days. I love my iPhone. I love that I can find the answer to most anything in seconds. I love that I can listen to music stored on my phone when I’m walking or driving my car. I love that my iPhone is a camera, a calendar, a calorie counter, a credit card, and a compass. I love that I can read books on my iPhone and watch movies and catch up with friends. And I love texting, too. Short words: Yay! Fun! And acronyms: OMG. LOL. And emojis: I especially love Bitmojis.
But texting is not conversation. And yet this is how we converse now.
My father used to say every day when I would come home from school and head straight for the phone to call my friend Elaine, “What could you possibly have left to say to Elaine? You just spent the whole day with her!”
He was right. I had just spent the whole day with her. We were in the same homeroom. We ate lunch together. We walked around the schoolyard together. But that didn’t stop us from talking after school and again after dinner, until one of our parents yelled, “Hang up that phone right now!”
Hands down, no contest at all, talking beats texting. You get the sound of a human voice. You get laughter and anger, inflection and nuance. You get to correct a misinterpretation. “No, I didn’t mean it that way. What I meant was...” You get intimacy and connection. And you get all these things in real time.
And yet we text. Even though we can speak faster than we can type, even though we can get our message across more accurately with the spoken word than with the abbreviated printed ones, and even though our spoken words never get lost in cyberspace, we choose text over talk. I do, too. And I have no idea why.Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.