I hate the phone. Let me just put that right out there. Oh sure, I call my sisters and girlfriends to chat, usually when I'm driving or cruising the grocery store aisles. I like a good old catch-up convo as much as the next gal. But when expediency is called for, the phone can suck time like a black hole.
Set aside my skepticism at clutching a mobile device to our brains or the loony appearance of those blinking Vulcan blue earpieces. What I hate about the phone when conducting business is the socially required chitchat, the lubrication, the "how are the kids" banter that doesn't allow for cutting to the chase. Wasn't this precisely why Al Gore created the Internet -- so we could all be more efficient?
But lately it seems that even email is failing me. I'm drowning in the sheer volume, suffocating in the volleys. Some conversations and decisions seem to require so many back and forths, so much cc-ing and reply-all-ing, that my knickers are twisted. We are a society of over- communicators. We text while we paint our toenails, we tweet while we're getting frisky. We feel a sense of rising panic if we haven't responded to someone in 24 hours.
Good old-fashioned email can plunge you into hot water, if you're not careful. The written word lacks tone or inflection; there's no indication that you are joshing (other than that silly smiley face symbol). Even a well-intentioned breezy missive can sound like you are dead serious, and a serious email can read as if a razor is poised at your wrist.
Oops. It seems I've just offended someone with my sloppily dashed email. But OMG, WTF? I'd used LOL, added a smiley face and plenty of exclamation marks to lighten it all up. Sigh. More time spent on clarification, apologies and back-pedaling. Now a phone call to hear our voices, palpate the hurt, define the intentions and un-do the damage. And finally, are we good? We're good. Ok. Thumbs up. We like each other on Facebook again.
Suddenly I'm nostalgic for my old phone with the black cord, the one I pulled into my childhood bedroom to whisper about cute boys. A phone call back then had weight, carried a certain importance. It was almost the equivalent of today's handwritten letter, as quaint as composing your Santa list from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue.
One of my favorite Nora Ephron essays is "The Six Stages of E-Mail." In the first stage she describes her excitement and infatuation at the new method of communication. This gives way to her confusion over excessive spam for retail and personal growth opportunities like penis enlargement. Note -- my husband once changed his email address for this reason and let's not go into the understandable insecurities this can breed when you're a male recipient. In the next stage, Ephron is overwhelmed by her email and finally the last section is simply entitled "Call Me."
Clicking on my email icon is like powering up a ball machine on a tennis court. My returns are faster and the replies now shorter. Anyone who emails me has to live with the fact that I don't take the time to spell check. It's my tiny stab at insurrection, a minimal but important time-saving device. To me, email is the written equivalent of a verbal response. Of course there are exceptions, but you know you're a friend if you have to read my messages fone- et-i- call-ee.
Sadly, from the looks of my inbox, email is here to stay. And after years of attempting to be a nice, polite girl, dutifully answering even unsolicited emails, I'm getting ruthless. I'm teaching myself to resist UFR (unnecessary further response) and to press delete when I see the FNOD's (Forward to 10 friends Now -- Or Die a mysterious death within 24 hours). I no longer send replies that say "great," "OK," "done," "thank you" or "really?" It's liberating. And frankly, do these people even remember they had the last word? Did they care? And don't get me started on RAA (reply-all abuse). Emailing someone is like accessing porn on the Internet. Even a child can do it.
I'm not sure exactly how I'll solve this. It's unrealistic to assume I can throw my devices out the car window and walk away from the burning wreckage. But I'm working on a healthier balance.
But the next time we're trying to set up a lunch date and it's taking seven replies, don't be surprised if you hear the phone ring. That will be me -- and please don't be offended if I fail to enquire about your parent's health.
Follow Lee Woodruff at www.leewoodruff.com