all of the selves we Have ever been
My phone rang three times
this morning before I could get to it.
It was a surprise. I am accustomed to receiving text messages throughout the day, but the phone does not ring often any more.
As I ran for the phone, I was reminded of my youth. When the phone rang, it generated excitement. Everyone in the household dashed toward the landline wanting to be the one to answer. If the caller was a relative or someone known to everyone in the family, the receiver was passed around until each person had a turn to talk. On the phone or in person, parents trying to civilize a child would never tolerate offspring who did not courteously respond when spoken to. And much of the time, children were expected to hold onto their thoughts and just listen.
Now people show up at state capitols with assault weapons.
They gather in the streets.
Burn down buildings.
Take over police headquarters.
Bury people with tweets.
Is this what it now takes to be heard?
How do I ignore thee? Let me count the ways.
First, there are in-person encounters. I would say face-to-face except people don’t look at one another any longer. They are busy staring into their phones and scrolling with their fingers, giving an occasional “uh-huh,” as you speak. Folks gather in the lunch room, at a meeting, or around a dinner table with others and occupy themselves with their phones. They might even laugh and talk out loud to no one in particular as they read quips from their screens.
Then there is the old-fashioned letter. What a surprise to get paper mail! But how likely is a person to receive a letter anymore? And what is the likelihood someone would answer if you took the time to write? A person has better odds of discovering cave drawings than getting a letter in reply.
Email was great at the start. Fast. Efficient. An exciting new technology. Now? Forget about it. People are entombed in email. If you get an answer, it might take weeks. More often, there is no answer. Ever. Recently, someone I know shared frustration that an important colleague had 200 unopened emails! Ouch! And is that just the tip of the cold shoulder? Probably. I called a business associate one day to follow-up on an email. As I waited on the line for him to search his inbox, he told me that he receives approximately 300 emails a day. I would be on life support by the end of a week if I tried to thoughtfully answer that many emails.
And don’t think you can sneak up on someone with feigned urgency by calling them. Folks rarely answer their phones unless they want to chew out or humiliate a telesales person. “Let it go to voicemail” is the company song. We all know that voicemail is hopeless. Too much effort. You have to dial your voicemail box, listen, maybe jot down a number or a piece of information, and dial back. A person would need a boost from a bottle of Ensure to support all that effort. And who keeps Ensure on hand?
Your best hope might be a text message, but don’t look for deep or thoughtful communication. Short messages might appear curt. Acronyms can lead to confusion. Suddenly, someone stops speaking to you because a typo lead to a new acronym that unintentionally insulted the receiver…The alphabet was once something decipherable by preschoolers, now you need an interpreter. Does that statement deserve an OMG? A WTF? IDK. And I give up.
And then there is the interplanetary universe of customer service. Phone menus. Holds. Chats with AI. Scripted responses. Little that is helpful. Much that is infuriating. What is the actual goal of customer service? Drive up the sale of psychotropic medications and mood stabilizers?
There is a lot of discontent brewing among the ignored and dismissed.
It is a sad day when it is easier to storm the capitol than it is to get a return phone call.