You’re gonna laugh. We sure did. Baby boomer Marsh Rose of Cloverdale, California, has confronted us with the truth: We don’t really want to communicate. She calls this essay, Sorry I Was Here To Take Your Call.
We’re lucky these days. Our relationships are so much easier than they were in the dark days before texting. Back then, if we wanted to communicate while still managing to physically avoid one another, we were forced to abuse the device known as the answering machine.
And don’t deny it; you’re a Baby Boomer, so you did it too. You deliberately called someone when you hoped they wouldn’t answer. You didn’t want to tell them that you were breaking the date or didn’t have the money. You wanted to tell their answering machine.
Remember how much work it was? Calculating the best time to call and not actually talk to someone? And all those strenuous prayers as you stood holding the receiver, listening to the ringing of a land line (was there any other kind?) on the other end and chanting, “Please don’t answer, please don’t answer.” Then there was the chance that you’d miscalculate and they’d answer or, worse, answer while you were halfway through leaving your message on their machine.
My friend Alison knew my schedule and would wait until I had gone to the gym. Then she’d give my machine the latest twist in her dysfunctional relationship with a truck driver named Dorton without having to break stride for my side of the conversation. Then of course I would have to wait until she was on a date with Dorton so I could give her machine the advice and criticism she didn’t want to hear. The whole thing could take hours.
My mother needed a calculator to figure the time difference between her home in Boston and mine in San Francisco. Then she’d wait until I was at work to leave a message on my machine. “Hi, sweetie. It’s your mother. Listen, you remember your Aunt Bessie, the one who has all that trouble with her feet? Well, her neighbor’s son Marvin is a dental hygienist in Los Angeles. A lovely man! He just got divorced. It wasn’t his fault. So I thought, since you live so close maybe you’d give him a call and … who knows.”
Had texting been invented I wouldn’t have had to wait until Mom was at her bridge game to tell her answering machine that unless we’ve had The Big Quake Which Everyone Knows Is Coming, Los Angeles is still not all that close to San Francisco. In fact, Mom wouldn’t even have tried. One round of struggling with those teeny buttons on her smartphone and she would have cast Marvin to his fate.
Life is better now but we still have a ways to go. I look forward to the future when texting will be as antiquated as the answering machine and people will be able to meet, date, develop complex relationships, and plan an elaborate wedding, all without ever having to make eye contact.