Taking my 11-year-old sneaker shopping at the mall last Friday night solidified my impression of just how differently he and I define "communication." His friend and my 8-year old son were with us through the shopping experience, but so were his 200+ Instagram followers. Using his Samsung Stellar smartphone (I'm still not sure how he talked me into getting that for him last month -- oh yes, thanks, Verizon, for that "free upgrade" email), he snapped photos of the latest KD 5 Nikes he was excitedly trying on. He shared. His Instagram "friends" cared/commented. I didn't get it.
I am a Gen X mom, and fairly obsessed with social networks and email myself. But my tween years were spent sharing things with friends in person -- trading stickers, talking on the way to track practice, buying Wacky Packs after school on long, unrushed, unsupervised strolls home. Our technology was playing Atari and looking at Swatch watches. The only things we left the house with were packs of Big League Chew and combs in the back pockets of our Jordache jeans. Crushes were discovered by locking eyes during Journey songs at the roller rink, not through one-sentence statements in Google chat rooms.
My teen years were defined by rushing home from Friday night dinners out with my parents and back to sit by my Princess phone, simply having to be by that landline to discuss and plan my night. Once I left the house, the night could not be orchestrated easily (thus many impromptu gatherings of high school friends in parking lots and parks to hear the buzz about where to go next). There was no "checking in" on Facebook. There was no technology in our hands that helped us communicate, socialize or share. That would be done in person, once we got to whatever classmate's house or party we were going to. Flirting played out in real time. Friends fought. Fun was living in the moment.
But back to that shoe shopping trip to the mall...
One hour and $125 later, my son sat in the car happy as a clam, wearing his new shiny green shoes and basking in the buzz of them on Instagram. The texts started coming, too. It occurred to me that it was sort of strange -- and almost sad -- that in this exciting moment (and he WAS excited -- have you seen sports-loving 11-year old boys getting new basketball shoes -- you'd think they won the lottery?), he didn't want to call any of his friends to talk about it. And I realized that I NEVER hear him talking on that cellphone of his, even though he has it in his hands practically 24/7. I would be shocked if I ever heard it ring or overheard him talking.
So I asked him: "Do you ever, ever talk on the phone? Or get a call? I've never heard it ring!" "Mom!" he said. "Nobody calls just to say 'hi!'" And that's his generation.
I, for one, find it a little sad. I must have picked up the phone five times last week alone to tell my closest friends about something big, or little, that was happening to me. Their voices reassured me. Their interest was clear; the interaction real.
As a Gen X parent, I want to embrace technology for myself and for my kids. And about ninety percent of the time, I do. I know it makes our lives better and easier in so many ways. I am a big texter! I check Facebook a dozen times a day. I Tweet. I love technology. Life is quicker and easier. But there's something about your best friend's voice that can't be replaced -- in good times and tough times. In my most down moments, I have texted to a friend "Don't worry; I'm ok" even though I'm not. And she'll call right away and I'll hear her voice asking "What's wrong? I know you're not ok." And I will burst into tears hearing her voice and be forced into a real, live conversation.
Connections old Gen X friends have go beyond postings and status updates, and texts where people must read between the lines -- even as we plan our 25th year high school reunion on Facebook. Verbal conversations remain a part of our lives, even if they're a smaller part than they used to be.
I am sad for my sons that they will never have this kind of interaction. But I know they won't miss something they never had. Only I will.