There were only four of us, including the birthday “girl,” all I had to do was find a date that would work for everyone, choose, after checking with the guest of honor, an appropriately girly and festive restaurant and make a reservation. Easy peasy. Only, not so much. Communicating with these three women turned out to be quite a challenge. Not because they aren’t perfectly lovely human beings—they are—but because we all have very different tech styles. The other two women my friend Debbie wanted me to invite are not close friends of mine, but I “see” them on Facebook, so the first thing I did was send them both a Facebook message. One I never heard from, the other responded a week later. I then emailed Debbie, who is working insane hours at a new job, and got no response because she had forgotten to give me her new email address and neglected to say she had stopped checking her old one. I then texted her and asked for the phone numbers of her friends which she gave. I texted the two friends. The one who never responded to my Facebook message texted me available dates. The other one I didn’t hear back from. I called and left a message, she called me back two days later, leaving a rambling voice mail saying which dates might or might not work and why, but nothing was definitive. The other friend left town, which for me has nothing to do with looking or not looking at texts, but, apparently she doesn’t when she is traveling. Huh? When I asked Debbie (original birthday friend, stay with me here), she was like, oh, Nancy doesn’t do texts and Linda never looks at Facebook, just call them at home. So here’s the deal in 2015—most of us aren’t home. Or, not in the kitchen-phone-rings-and-someone-answers-it way we were in 1986. So I am leaving messages. Look, I am sorry, but I just need a quick text or email—I can do these dates but not this one. Simple, right?
But before I get too annoyed by all of this, I have to confess that my particular communication technology style drives some of my friends crazy. I don’t, for instance, use my landline anymore. But I used to before I moved a couple of years ago so for a year when my friends would call my old landline they would be given the new number and use it. I would not answer it, nor would I check messages. The phones don’t work well in my canyon house so if I do talk on my landline I need to stand near the phone, the way I did in high school, and, well, I can’t BEAR it. The idea of just standing or sitting and talking? To not be chatting away while emptying the dishwasher or deleting my DVR recordings or walking out to get the mail? It feels beyond weird, it, like, hurts my brain. Plus, I don’t even know how to retrieve voice mail from that phone, I never bothered to learn. We inherited this “phone system” when we moved into this house and it was just way too much bother so, like 50% of Americans and 90% of young Americans, I now only use my cell phone. I have told everyone of my friends this but the ones who are technologically stuck in the early nineties, they can’t seem to stop phoning my landline and leaving voice mails, which a couple of them refer to as leaving a message “on your machine.” I literally get voice mails on my cell phone that say, “oh, you’re not there, I will try you at home and if I don’t get you I’ll leave the details on your machine.” They express surprise when I tell them, no, I didn’t get that message. Because, um, as I have told you, I don’t use that number, and, uh, don’t have a MACHINE. Just because you still have a machine with little five year old Tyler’s voice on it (which, while at least somewhat adorable in 1996 is embarrassing to him and irritating, not to mention confusing, to anyone else) doesn’t mean the rest of us haven’t moved into this century.
My twenty-something daughters each have a smart TV, gifts from their aunt when they graduated college. My husband Mitchell and I have dumb TVs. Or maybe it’s just us who are dumb. Or probably just me because my husband doesn’t really care, but if he did, he could figure it out. He could figure out how to watch the new Amazon Prime Series on a TV, or Netflix, which, while I will watch sometimes on my laptop, I find to be an unsatisfying experience. My oldest daughter watches Downton Abbey on her laptop before it is broadcast here and doesn’t understand why I prefer to wait until it is on in January where I can see it on a bigger screen. What I don’t tell her is that when I tried to watch it on my laptop using the website she suggested I ended up in a chat room with two women, one with crossed eyes, the other with enormous breasts who wanted to, um, interact with me. Hey, no judgment here, just not the experience I was looking for. I tell this, yes, true story to show how in some ways I am behind the times.
But I email! I text! I am on Facebook and Instagram and even Twitter! I haven’t figured out a few cool apps that my friends who work in offices with young people seem to know, but to some of my contemporaries I am way ahead of the curve. Even Mitchell and I have very different tech styles. (And for some reason he is a genius with appliances and the television and computers but can’t seem to figure out the simplest things about his iPhone) He barely texts, and it is only in the past year or so that he stopped ending these infrequent texts with “Love M,” as if they were handwritten notes from the 19th century.
Full confession, I like texts, I like emails. I love seeing people in person, but, for reasons I can’t completely understand myself, I now hate talking on the phone, especially when I am running around doing other things. (Yes, I know I said I hated standing still in my house, but at least my house is fairly quiet and distraction free.) I am sorry, but if we are just making quick plans, text me. If we need to have a real conversation, maybe we can save it for when we see each other. I have a friend who calls and wants to discuss her child’s ADHD diagnosis or her fear that her husband is having an emotional affair with a young co-worker when I am turning onto the freeway or, worse, ordering turkey at the deli counter, forcing me to behave like those rude people who act like you are interrupting them when they are doing YOU a service. I remember years ago when I was traveling and was in an old fashioned general store in Vermont and my ob-gyn called with the test results of something, uh, personal? I tried to walk out of the store but started to lose service so ended up crouching in the corner amongst a collection of vintage cow signs talking about vaginal dryness and hormone levels in as quiet a voice as I could manage. I am sorry, but I can’t do this.
Ok, I get it, I am cranky. Maybe chalk it up to those aforementioned hormone levels. But can’t we just if not all get along at least find some way to communicate that is…..consistent? Some of my friends don’t know how to use email on their phones and/or don’t text, which means if I want to get a hold of them to see if they want to go to a dance performance I was just given tickets for that night, they are out of luck. Some of these friends do text, but they answer the texts days and days after they were sent. Somehow they missed the point of texts, that they should be answered fairly promptly. And then there are my daughters and most, if not all, of their friends, who use texting as a long, rambling conversation of sorts.
This wasn’t the way it used to be. We all used to know the rules, the etiquette of communicating with each other. We all used to use the same equipment and communicate the same way. When I was a kid pretty much everyone in my albeit middle class Canadian and American world had a TV, a radio, a phone and we used it the same way. (I do, however, remember my grandfather getting up to turn the channel. Even though he had a remote control he didn’t “trust” it.) But the big change, come to think of it, when it all started to go downhill, consistency-wise, was that voice machine. Some of us had one way before others, and older generations had trouble converting. I remember the strange messages from my mom….Laurie….Laurie…..um, Laurie!!!! and then she would hang up. Remember how slightly unhinged and/or drunk friends or spurned lovers would take up the whole tape on your machine? How that would feel like such an intrusion? (I am assuming that, heaven forbid, YOU were never one of those people who left that kind of message.) Although, I have to admit, I had one friend who often left very long but so hilariously entertaining messages on my machine that I would make myself a cup of tea and just sit and listen and laugh. He is gone now, I so wish I had kept those recordings and not been so cheap and just recorded over them, using the same tape for years.
When I visit my parents these days it is pretty interesting, technology wise. Now that they both suffer from dementia, it’s like they have gone backwards in this area. If a TV show isn’t on at a certain time, they don’t seem comfortable with recording it, even if their caregiver offers to do this. Even if they themselves did, albeit clumsily, use a VCR back in the day. Also, they seem to think there are three channels, although, interestingly, they aren’t CBS, NBC and ABC….they are CNN, the Tennis Channel and, um, I don’t know. When I suggested they might like this new STARZ series, “Outlander,” they were positively unmoored by the idea of watching a new channel. When I mention a show they might like they always ask, “Is it a movie of the week on CNN?” Uh….no, and, no. Because guys, CNN is a NEWS channel. They will look at me very skeptically. This is, apparently, pun intended, news to them. Do they think Anderson Cooper is a character? Do they not realize he is a real person? Do they think he and Sanja Gupta and Anthony Bourdain are all part of the same fictional universe?
But, I digress. So, what I am really railing on about? I guess I would just like to understand the new rules. No, I guess I would just like for there to BE rules about all of this. I am going to give a party in a few weeks. I will make an E-vite. I will make a Facebook group. For a couple of the older ones I will buy an old fashioned card and mail it to them. And, for a few people, I will call them as requested on their home phone so I can leave a message on their voice mail (or machine?) stating the date and time. They can then write it down, presumably on the kitchen calendar taped onto their refrigerator. And they will leave an indecipherable and garbled message (because things can sound clear on your end but not be the least bit clear on mine) on my cell phone voice mail and I will have to call them back. The
Harry Potter owls are looking better and better to me. If anyone out there has any solutions to this problem, I’m all ears. Or preferably eyes. If you want to talk about it, just text me and we can set up a lunch.