Communication and misinterpretation

by Pari

Years ago when I lived in D.C., I felt so emotionally exhausted one day that I unplugged my telephone. This was in the Dark Ages, when cell phones — if they existed — were the size of dinner plates and had the reception reserved for those crappy mics at drive-through restaurants where what you get in that take-out bag may be leagues away from what you actually ordered.

Anyway . . .

I completely forgot that my phone was unplugged.

As the weeks went by with nary a ring, I sank into deeper and deeper despair. No one loved me. No one cared whether I lived or died. No one would discover my body until the end of the month when the rent came due.

Fast forward to today and the ever-expanding ways we can let someone else know we’re thinking of them: snail mail, cell phone messages, emails, tweets, FB comments and likes, pokes, IM-ing and so many more of which I’m not aware. But what happens when one or two or three of those fail?

I thought about this when my home email froze the other day. People were surely contacting me, but I couldn’t respond . . . I had no easy way of even knowing who had tried. Then I lost my mailbox key for a couple of days.  Was there something in that metal box that deserved more attention than the usual grumpiness I feel when faced with a handful of bills?

Communication isn’t what it used to be. At least back in those Dark Ages, a person wouldn’t assume you were ignoring him or her if you didn’t respond.

Today expectations have changed. I think we’re all a bit more irritable and more apt to assume slights where none are meant.  An era ago, a letter took weeks to arrive and weeks for a response. Phone calls went unanswered and, even more importantly, they often went unknown because there weren’t machines to capture the miss.

Now, I propose that the assumption is usually that an unanswered phone call, email or comment has a meaning when, in truth, it simply might not have been received.

All this comes up today because we’ve been having troubles with comments on Murderati.
It’s difficult to post them right now.
They disappear.
They get “moderated” for some odd reason.
The discussion behind the scenes is filled with concern: Are we losing our readers because they can’t interact with us? We don’t know.

I sure hope not.

And I hope that if you have a comment and can’t post here, you’d know to contact me — or my fellow ‘Rati — on our personal website emails  . . . or on Facebook.

For now, we’re trying to figure out how to work with Squarespace to resolve the issue. Please accept my — our — apologies . . . but don’t assume we’re ignoring you!

My questions for today:
1. Do you agree that the way we communicate has changed since the advent of, say, the pocket-size cell phone?
2. Have our expectations (and, perhaps our patience) changed?

13 thoughts on “Communication and misinterpretation

  1. Sarah W

    I've never really been one for talking on the telephone (teenage years aside), and I resisted cell phones until my older daughter was two and I accidentally locked my keys–and her–in the car in the grocery store parking lot. A women with a cell phone called emergency services and I decided cells could be for protection as well as prestige.

    I only succumbed to a smart phone (gorilla glass! shiny case! Words with Friends!) this year and started texting. Very convenient, though I prefer e-mails for anything longer or less immediate than "Running late, see you in ten." or "Can you pick up eggs on your way?"

    But my 17-year old nephew texts his contact list all the drama of his life, and if no one responds within ten minutes, his updated Facebook status is either abjectly apologetic to or scathingly disdainful of the world that hath rejected him for trying so very hard to be himself.

    I remember being that age, but I vented my angst in my journal, which no one else saw unless my sister found my secret hiding place. I was about to say that I'm not sure I would've ever vented in a public forum if the tech had been available . . . but these days I vent in blog posts and tweets (and comments), so who knows?

    So, yeah, I think there's a definite difference . . .

  2. Debbie

    I've never felt obligated to answer the phone, which baffles my mother-in-law. If it's important (kids sick at school, please confirm this appointment, this or that charity will be by to pick up donations tomorrow) please have them ready) they'll leave a message. No message, I assume it's a telemarketer and I congradulate myself for missing the call! As for email and Fb, I had hoped to communicate with family through this media and it turns out, well frankly my dear, they don't give a damn. I took that personally for a while and then decided, at least I know where I stand. Btw, my mil found out that my children made lasagna from scratch and invited herself over for dinner…charming.

  3. Pari Noskin

    We had other problems there!

    I know what you mean about cell phones and texts. I only have a "smart phone" b/c work pays for it since I need to be accessible.

    And your nephew is probably pretty on the money as far as how teens relate to all of this now. I bet thee and me vent more publicly because of the ease of doing it as well <g>.

    Oh, my.
    My mom ended up buying me a machine in D.C. so that she'd know I was alive. As to the communication via electronics, it's worked well with my family and friends . . . so I'm grateful, but it does have its downsides, doesn't it?

  4. Dee

    I feel such a Luddite these days. We are rural, and have no cell phone reception. And we are retired–no need or excuse to "be connected". Dipped my toe in the venom that is Twitter–no thanks! There is a downside. I check my e-mail once a day. I have been stood up for lunch and coffee a few times lately by friends who tweet. They sent e-mails an hour or two before the meeting time, asssuming that I was somehow "on line" and waiting to read their deathless prose.

  5. Gar Haywood

    Pari: What drives me crazy about communication today is not so much the expectation that one must always be plugged in, but the NEED some people have to be. I sometimes get the sense that these folks never — and I mean NEVER — go off-line. They jog while talking on their cell phone or texting, they sit in the jacuzzi while talking on their cell phone or texting, they watch movies in the theater while talking on their text phone or texting.

    This is living???

  6. Fran

    I resisted getting a cell phone, but Lillian insisted (we were traveling a lot in NM, and the distances can be daunting, so she wanted to be sure I was okay), and now I carry it everywhere. And Lillian and I are texting fiends.


    I hate talking on the cell. It's so small, and it's so easy to drop a call. Like most of us, I was all over the phone as a teen, but now? I'd really rather not.

    Except for work, of course, because we need and actually want to talk to our customers. That personal touch is one of the things we, as an indie bookstore, can do well. As I told a customer the other day, who challenged me about why she should buy from us rather than Amazon, I told her we're here for her personally, we're not an algorithm. She bought a couple of books, so yay.

    However, at home? Especially during this political season? I let the machine get it, and gladly. But we're part of the old-fashioned group that has both cells and a landline. I gather with the younger group, landlines are sooooo antique! Heh.

  7. Lisa Alber

    No phone calls for weeks? Sounds dreamy to me!

    I second Gar's emotion. So annoying how you can't sit through dinner with friends without the smartphones coming out. Please, people, you don't need to look up every topic that comes up so that you can further expand on it, and you don't need to take that phone call from your annoying Aunt Marions either.

    I do feel pressure to return email messages quickly, which is just another pressure in a pressure-filled life.

    One positive: Even though Facebook is the devil's toy, I am in better touch with old friends and new friends than I used to be (not being a telephone person).

  8. Pari Noskin

    I'm amused. I had that happen to me b/c of not looking at my cell phone or texts. I wonder if manners/etiquette — at least as I knew them — are also shifting due to this communication "convenience?"

    I totally agree. And I see it in one of my kids too . . . that need to be tethered to these communications devices. I don't think it's living, but many people don't think what *I* do is living either . . .

    I'm grateful to have a cell when I'm on the road here in NM. And I do think they have their place. But I'm of your same era . . . landline, cell (b/c of work) and whenever possible: in person, thankyouverymuch!

    I really dislike it when I'm conversing with someone and he or she goes to the cell/text every few seconds — and yet I did that to someone today at work without even realizing it!– so I'm refraining from casting too many stones . . .
    And speaking of stones . . .
    You hit one of the main reasons I like FB — I'm in touch with more people I care about more often as a result of having a few pages there.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks for addressing this issue, Pari. It looks like the comments are getting through today.
    I flip-flop between full cell phone immersion and wanting to drop the damn thing in an oil well. I have dreams of moving to Kauai, where I imagine the cell coverage is a bit less dependable. Someday…

  10. David Corbett


    I just spent a week in Mendocino, where cell reception is the pits. There was a car emergency that made the reception issue a true hassle, but other than that, I reconnected with something I can only think of as the quality of silence. You feel the itch to connect for what it is — an itch. The silence was quite liberating, and instructive. I miss it already.

    I'm one who's been having comment issues. We'll see if this posts.

  11. Lisa Alber

    Speaking of the quality of silence, David, last Friday I did a float therapy session for 90 minutes. It's an amazing thing to be suspended in a sensory deprivation tank. For people who can let go, it's a great way to reach a silent/theta state. The 90 minutes went by incredibly fast, and I felt great afterwards.

  12. Pari Noskin

    I know what you mean about the cell phone, although I don't use mine that much — other than for my morning alarm clock and for a timer and for getting my emails from work and for texting my kids and for and for and for . . .

    It got through!
    Isn't silence divine? I sometimes give myself that pleasure just in my own house — no phone, no computer, no nothing . . .
    It's an incredible gift to self.

    I've been in floatation tank a couple of times — though only for about 30 minutes — and enjoyed it. But I did have some trust issues that had to be resolved. <g>

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