Everybody my age and older needs a friend at least 5 years younger who can break things down for him or her—someone who can translate the slang for us and dull the edges of cutting edge. Now, what this friend is able to do for you probably depends on how old you are. If you are 80, your 75-year-old friend may be able to point out that referring to your bridge partner’s grandson as a “gay young fellow” is probably not what you really mean to say. Your young 50-year-old friend might tell you that it’s not, in fact, called “The Google.” And your 35-year-old friend may be able to enlighten you on an iPhone vs. Android debate.
My 5-years-younger friend is Jesse. He introduced me to Wikipedia, oh so long ago! He knows how to take amazing pictures and turn them into Superamazing pictures using Photoshop; and he’ll show me how to do these things too! He always seems to know more about the things that interest both him and me, because he just knows where to find shit out. I don’t know how he does it. He’s just ON it, no matter what it is. Aside from being a great source of information, he’s just an awesome friend and on a very short list of smartest/funniest people I know. And for these reasons and more, I like him a whole lot. But he doesn’t check his gosh darned voice messages!!
Why oh why, Jesse, I have asked him, don’t you check the message I just left you before you call me back?! (This was particularly vexing when we worked together at a university bookstore and I would call and leave him a detailed message about what still needed to get done after I’d left for the day or which customer or professor was likely to come in that evening and give him hell over a book that hadn’t yet arrived). To which his response was likely to be “why didn’t you call me back when I returned your call?” To which I would probably answer, “why didn’t you leave a message?”
See, this is the chasm five years creates when the two friends involved are of our exact ages. I still remember when there were no answering machines in homes. If somebody called and you missed it, you had no way of knowing. The phone just echoed its lonely ring through the house for as many rings as the caller could stand. And eventually, the caller would call back, if it was important enough. Again, the caller would call back if it was important enough!
And then answering machines came along. Now you still may not have known if you missed somebody’s call (at least before caller ID arrived), but if the call WAS important, the caller would leave a message. Again, if the call was important, the caller would leave a message!
So imagine my surprise when Jesse finally broke it down for me about people who were still in high school when cell phones began to saturate the markets. “We don’t bother leaving messages,” he’d said, “we just return the missed call.”
Okay clearly this 5 years makes a huge difference. I told him so. “Listen, if you want to tell me something, you could leave a message, or if you really want to talk to me, you could call back. If you don’t leave a message I just assume it either wasn’t important, or that it was time-sensitive. Like you were calling to tell me our boss was on t.v., in a crowd shot at The Warriors game, and he was picking his nose.”
No, he insisted. This would just be a waste of time. “You waste your time leaving the message, and I waste my time listening to it. You could just return the missed call.”
“Return a missed call!,” I’d exclaimed, “isn’t that kind of a loser thing to do?” This is where my wrong thinking about it is apparent. In my day, if you called somebody back simply because your caller ID told you they’d called, you were pathetic! What person is so lonely and desperate for contact, they will seek out every last person who ever attempted to make a connection with them? For all you knew you could be returning a telemarketer’s call, “Excuse me, um, did you just call me?!"
I refuse to get on board with this.
And another thing, since we're talking about the shift in how phones are utilized. I need to ask Jesse to explain to me why texting is the preferred way for these young kids to fight! I know he knows the answer to this one. I used to be sitting at my desk, next to his desk at work, and be subjected to the constant tap tap tapping of his texting, rapid-fire responses to his girlfriend's rapid-fire accusations, or vice-versa, or both.
I got a rare glimpse of this text-for-conflict-resolution world when I received the following text, out of the blue, from a co-worker I barely know, who (strangely since I don't know her) had invited me to her bridal shower:
Did I do something wrong? Are you mad at me or something? My sister told me you said I said she was annoyed. I didn't say she was annoyed! I said she was upset!
Okaaaaay. What happened was that I'd received an invitation to this girl's shower in the mail and had told her the next day at work that I couldn't make it. She mentioned that her sister was all annoyed (er, upset) because people were RSVPing to the girl directly instead of to her sister, as they were asked to on the invitation. That's totally fair. I did feel kind of bad about that, so I called the sister to let her know. I left a longish message, thanking her for the invitation, apologizing for not letting her know first, mentioning in a playful and mea culpa way that I'd heard she was annoyed (er, upset) with people who'd done just what I'd done, and telling her I hoped to meet her soon. I did not give it another second's thought. So it took me a good 10 seconds to register what that text message was even about.
And the thing is, I don't have enough interaction with this girl or know her well enough to have conflict with her, so it was dually strange to now be in conflict-resolution mode via text. I thought it stupid, too! Why not just call me? I ended up calling her immediately, and she didn't pick up the phone. Really strange, given that she'd just sent a text. So I figured, okay, she doesn't actually want to talk about this. She just wanted to chastise me(?). I left a message assuring her that I didn't mean anything by my word choice, that I didn't realize I'd changed her words, and that I meant it as an apology to her sister. No hard feelings, I hope, I'd said.
And then she texted me back right away! So she avoided picking up the phone and then listened to my message. We've all avoided phone calls and opted instead to listen to the message. But cheesh, at least pretend you weren't available by waiting a while to respond.
"It's fine. I calmed my sister down. She's not mad anymore. It's just, it should never have been said."
Wow. I knew at this point I wanted nothing to do with this girl OR he sister and the little drama they had going on. And of course, when I saw my co-worker at work three days later, she said nothing of the incident. I just don't understand this kind of communication. And I'm not claiming to be the spokesperson for honest and upfront communication, either. I carefully avoid confrontation and unpleasant encounters whenever I can, and it's done me a lot of harm, this avoidance. But even I draw the line at conducting an entire concern-raising talk via text.
Alas, I am aware, however it pains me to admit it, that I am simply the 5-years-older fuddy duddy in the mix who hasn't yet accepted the changing times. Like the lamenters of typed-letters over hand-written ones, like the lamenters of e-mail over letters at all, here I am. And shock of shocks, though they don't listen to messages or leave them, and though they text their grievances rather than speak them, Jesse and others in his age group still manage to have meaningful friendships and relationships, go to school and hold jobs, and make positive change in the world. Hey, maybe they are even getting MORE done, more efficiently as well, what with all the time they've saved.
That last line was only meant to be partially sarcastic.