The essay on the back page of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine was called “Why I Silence Your Call, Even When I’m Free.” The author tells a moving story about a moment in which she realized that she’s “coasting along on what seems like a new norm: Nobody picks up. Why should I?”
She nailed it. I sometimes go a few days without my phone ringing, or ringing only for some banal reason like my dentist’s office confirming my insurance plan. My parents don’t even call very often, waiting for me to call them at a moment when it’s convenient. When it’s convenient…for me. This is our new normal.
As a child, we had one phone. It was deep red, and it hung to the right of the kitchen doorway, poised a few feet over a weathered wooden stool. I remember my finger scraping along the dial as I called my grandmother to say hello. 646-3950. When we talked, I understood whether she was tired or euphoric or lonely or inspired. I could hear it in her voice. Someone in my family answered that phone every single time it rang — the time a guy called to ask me to the prom…the many times telemarketers annoyed the hell out of my parents…the time my aunt called to confirm that we were coming to Sunday dinner…the time the hospital told my mom that a drunk driver had hit her parents’ Cadillac on the highway.
I’m not pining to go back to those times. It was awkward to talk to my prom date while my mom did the dishes two feet away. And it’s nice to be able to screen out the telemarketers selling political candidates’ souls. But I am pining for my phone to ring more. And like the author of the essay, I’m wishing it were more natural for me to answer it when it rings.
Our devices are amazing. Text messages can be poetic. Stickers are fun. But as more and more of this wonderment appears at our fingertips, this essay rings truer and truer. We need to talk to each other more. We need to see faces and hear voices and touch people. We need to read between the lines. We need conversations, not monologues. We need to teach our children that our digital lives only exist alongside real lives. That we call and we answer…that we listen first, talk second, and text/tweet third. That sometimes the best connections are indeed, inconvenient.