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Let’s talk...

Text messages and emails are all very well; but they are no substitute for a real conversation

brunch Updated: Feb 23, 2013 17:23 IST
Seema Goswami

Okay, be honest now. How many of you use a mobile phone or a laptop to communicate with people in the same house? Do you text your spouse to say that dinner is ready when he or she is just a room away? Do you BBM your kids to tell them that they are getting late for school and need to step on it? Do you phone your household help from the bedroom to ask them to lay out breakfast? I have to plead guilty to the last. I know it is a bit shaming, but I find that switching on my mobile and calling on the landline to ask for coffee and toast gives me an extra 10 minutes in bed. And on some days, that can make all the difference.

Cell The reason I am asking you these intrusive questions this Sunday morning is because a recent survey conducted by a British company found that as many 45 per cent of the respondents admitted to using mobile devices to communicate with family members even when they were all in the same house. And I am guessing – thanks to an entirely unscientific and unrepresentative survey conducted among my friends – that it is much the same in India.

Kids instant message their moms to find out what’s for dinner. Moms text their kids to remind them that there’s tennis after school that day. Husbands BBM wives to tell them they are running late (and vice versa).

Sometimes there are good reasons for using this method of communication. If you text or email your husband that he needs to pick up the dry cleaning on the way home, there is a greater chance that he will remember to do so. And if he forgets you will have written evidence that you did remind him to do that and that he forgot. Not only will this save you an endless argument on the lines of ‘Yes, I did tell you’ ‘No, you didn’t’, it will also help to conclusively establish that it was HIS fault. (Of course this will lead to endless whining about how ‘everything’ seems to be his fault; but you are probably used to that.)

So yes, it’s always good to have a record of stuff like that. Ditto, what time the PTA meeting is; which weekend has been blocked off for a visit to the in-laws; whose turn it is to pick up the kids from school; when the credit card payment falls due. Using text messaging or email to discuss stuff like this makes sense.
And who can deny that the day gets a little brighter when you see a message from your significant other in your inbox with the tagline ‘I love you’ or even ‘Miss you’. A missive like that can make even the most dreary work meeting easier to get through.

EmotionsBut that said, there is a lot of stuff that we really should be saying face-to-face – and we simply don’t. And however much we may regret it, there is simply no denying that non-verbal communication is on the rise. What’s more, every generation seems to be as guilty as the next. A few years ago, I would berate my young nieces and nephews for instant messaging their friends rather than simply picking up the phone and talking to them. Now I find myself texting or BBM-ing my friends, with whom I would have had long phone conversations in more low-tech times.

So, why exactly are we so leery about having a real conversation these days? Partly it is that we don’t want to seem intrusive. Everyone has busy lives and we don’t want to call and make a nuisance of ourselves. It’s much easier to respond to a text than a phone call, we tell ourselves, as we put off a nice, long chat yet again. But at least part of the problem is that we simply don’t want to invest the time and effort required to have a proper heart-to-heart with those we love. We’d much rather exchange a line or two on the phone or via email than participate in a meaningful exchange.

But when we cease to have conversations, we miss out on much more than we realise. Effectively, we are raising a generation that is incapable of picking up on verbal cues and micro-expressions because of the lack of face-time in their lives. We are creating a world in which emoticons are replacing emotions; and where human interface is being nudged out by hyper-connectivity. And in the process, we are all becoming a little less human ourselves.

So, the next time you have something to say to those whom you love and cherish, just say it. Don’t email, text, BBM or instant message. Pick up the phone and talk.

Sometimes it is nicer to hear a human voice than a ping that announces the arrival of yet another email. And it’s always better to exchange smiles with someone (or just hear a smile in their voices) rather than see a smiley in their text messages.

From HT Brunch, February 24

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