Tuesday, February 5, 2008


It happened again last night, that eerie silence.

Jenny and I were at our beloved Hula's -- I was digging into a faux coconut shell filled with wasabi mashed potatoes, along with a Caesar salad and four steak skewers -- when we noticed a sudden quietude from the table closest to us.

Just a few minutes before, three teenaged girls were laughing and chatting. One announced loudly, "I have to tinkle" and Jenny and I shared a silent eye-roll (kind of like an egg roll, but more tasty).

Then it got quiet.

At first we didn't notice, settling back into our own conversation. But then we picked up on the strange wordlessness coming from our neighbors.

Jenny spotted them first: two remaining girls text-messaging on their phones.

Both were facing each other, but each was intently staring at individual screens.

Jenny whispered to me, "Why would they be texting when they're out to dinner with each other?"

To our middle-aged sensibilities, this was a weird performance.

Gazing upon the texting masses, I often wonder: just what do people say when they're mashing those tiny buttons? Occasionally I'll text Jenny or Vienna if I'm attending a meeting that's running late. Sometimes my phone's texting feature helps me send a quick message when I don't want to disturb my surroundings.

But the idea of texting someone else while enjoying a meal with a friend strikes me as bizarre.

Sure, I can imagine all sorts of reasons why it made sense to these folks. And, of course, it's really none of my business why a stranger chooses to send a text message.

But I think that many, many folks text as a sort of nervous tic, a technological parallel to saying "like" every three words while speaking.

Awkward silence? Send a text. Boring surroundings? Send a text. Insufficient stimulus? Send a text.

Really, I wonder what percentage of all the texts sent throughout the world simply announce, "OMG, IM soooo bord!!! :-(" (don't get me started on the impact of text messaging on spelling).

Doubtlessly, my rant reads like the complaint of an old fogey hearing The Beatles for the first time: "You call that music? It's caterwauling!" Yeah, OK, gramps...

But for the life of me, I just don't get texting.

(Cartoon borrowed from Savage Chickens)


MB said...

It isn't just you, Andy. I have experienced that, too, and not with teenagers, surprisingly. My husband and I were out for dinner this past weekend with a couple of his former colleagues and this one guy would just not stop texting...he was fully engaged in the "live" conversation we were having, contributing actively, while his thumbs moved at incomprehensible speeds. Periodically, he would look up and give us a smile. It bothered me, but for the others that was just him being him...the multi-tasker. It's weird how people have stopped being in one place at one time -- the need to always be "in touch" or "have something to do" even when with a group of friends is perplexing.

Andrew Wood said...

Thanks, MB, for your comment. You nailed it with that reference to "multi-tasking." It's a good idea in some contexts - utterly absurd in others.

Carol said...

Shawn and I had the same conversation the other night. With wireless headsets, texting on cell phones, iPods etc... people have a tendency to engage less with other people. Our conversation even went as far as not knowing your neighbors (we didn't know ours when we were in the Bay Area), or even taking online classes (some are motivated to take online classes to avoid face to face interaction with other people). Interaction with one another as a community seems to be dwindling. Being more involved with technology, and one another through technology seems to the direction a lot of us are moving (my husband and I included). In fact, Shawn has more friends in his online WOW community than he does in person. Scary! Exploring this idea is absolutely fascinating to me!!!

Andrew Wood said...

That's one of the thing that intrigues me most about WOW - the social component. I'm planning to try it sometime, but I'm slightly concerned about its potential to become an all-consuming part of an already overloaded life :-)

Mansi said...

Would you say our definition of "friendship" is also changing? I usually add only those people in my Facebook account that I know in real life...but is that the norm? Seems like a lot of people into social networking site are comfortable pursuing online friendships while at the same time having a parallel network of friends in real life. And the two don't necessarily intersect.

Carol said...

WOW can absolutely be consuming. Shawn plays all the time, and now I play too - although, I don't play nearly as much as he does. WOW is where most of his social interaction comes from. He is friends with college students from Texas, truck drivers from Canada, and a plethora of other people around the world - mainly US and Canada though. I must say though, that a lot of times he plays alone, just trying to level his characters. But there is quite a bit of social interaction. There is a guy in Texas who calls Shawn on his cell phone a few times a week just to check in to see if he is going to play that night. Since we talk over Vent (a program we use to chat with other people using headphones and a microphone), even while our 'friends' are playing in another group, we still chat with them. It seems comfortable for them to get to know one another because it's not face to face - it's compartmentalized interaction. It's on their terms. I can go on and on about this, so I will stop here. :)

(I have debated doing research about this with a friend who is an MFT - her husband plays too. We both play with our husbands, otherwise that time would be spent apart. Like I said, this subject is absolutely fascinating to me).

Andrew Wood said...

Good point, Mansi. It no longer seems so odd to be "friended" by a total stranger. Indeed, those "friendships" are so much easier to manage, since we can pick and choose the attributes of those relationships that suit us. Suddenly I'm flashing on communication scholar Joe Walther who suggested that we call these links hyperpersonal relationships.

Andrew Wood said...

No doubt, Carol, there are books to be written on WOW. And then there's Second Life. I want to dive into that "place" as well!

Mansi said...

I wonder if such hyperpersonal relationships have a skewed perspective of truth and trust as well, given how easy it is to assume different personalities...fascinating topic and definitely worth exploring. I wonder as I write this, though...am I, too, getting too old?

Andrew Wood said...

Mansi writes, "am I, too, getting too old?" As the saying goes, "if you have to ask..." :-)