a very modern argument

We used to visit. We would plan to come over or go round and share our news. We knew the times of buses, of trains, of movies, because once we were away from the paper we’d looked the times up in or the transport schedule we’d taken from the sideboard, there was no other way to check. Sunday service rarely went forgotten. Now the man drawer is littered with takeaway menus, spare keys and old biros and we meet in the mall, at the cinema, in the pub for a quick catch up. We text our apologies on the way.

We used to talk. Over tea from silver tea pots in bleach scented tea rooms with lace curtains and lino on the floor, or on chinz trimmed sofas, and china cups in your own lounge. We listened attentively as friends softened their stiff upper lip. More recently we chat, hearing our friends echo our own situations back at us through their own experiences, curled up in man eating sofas nursing miscellaneous drinks in supersized mugs, surrounded by buggies and the other floating personnel of a loose Thursday afternoon: a student like ourselves once, the red faced, bawling centre of young families; grannies rehomed from the tea room that this new Starbucks once lived its life as. “Do ye’ have carrot cake, son?”

We used to speak. In full sentences, using all of the vowels. We used to wonder less, because we talked more. We wanted less because we had more, in the relationships we had with friends and family. Now we text, email, facebook, facebook message, tweet, skype, facetime – in the novelties of new communication we’ve reinvented speaking, to speak less.

Now we tweet. Whole stories – most recently from Jennifer Egan, last years author of the moment with A Visit from the Goon Squad – or opinions or complaints. We push 140 characters onto those who twinkle on the edge of our lives, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to care about this flick of communication. We consider a status successful if a double digit number of our facebook friends ‘like’ it, and we lazily like something back for mutual kudos.

Now we text. Quick messages dashed off instead of a phone call. We’ve all drawn our worlds close in around us as our friendships become defined by those we text and those we call. “updte onur wherebouts plz” defined my teens as Mum sought to balance need for information with teenage bipolar behaviour. There is love in those dropped vowels.

Now we email. From the depths of our heart to the width of our ambition. 10 (or so…) years ago, my high school boyfriend asked me out over email; 5 actual years ago it let me share the birth of my baby cousin while travelling; in recent years it is how we apply for jobs, how we make plans with friends: it is our link to life admin, Martin Lewis Money Saver emails and Facebook birthday alerts.

It’s inevitable that through all of these methods of connection, and the level of colloquial chatter we pitch our life tone to, that crossed wires occur. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr D’Arcy might have had a very different story had they been able to email. Instantaneous bursts of conscience rattle from your fingers, CTL+ENTER and it’s sent. There is no recourse for remorse as the flying reply stings your feelings and you tally up the hurt you are still stinging from, against the strength of your sentiment and ping off a howler in reply. There is not the time to percolate your feelings and garner remorse or concern for how else your words may be taken, other than how you had meant them. Really our ancestors had it right, flowery though their language was. Maybe we should talk more, chat less. Listen more, hear less. Visit more, hang less. Speak more. Maybe.


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