Someone asked me for my number about a month ago. After I typed in my number into their phone, I failed to reciprocate. And after some other stuff ensued, I’ve been thinking about it.
I haven’t asked for someone’s phone number or email for personal reasons in a reallyyy long time. Instead, I’ve hidden behind Facebook friend requests and other forms of stalking to stay in contact with people.
Maybe that’s just a reflection on how easy staying in touch with someone has become, but it’s also a bit screwed up- to no longer have that in person acknowledgement of “Hey I want to talk to you more. How can I contact you?” 1
I found an old index card in my 6th grade pencil bag with handwritten email addresses on it. 2 This wasn’t for a class project, and these weren’t my closest friends. They were people I sat with during homeroom for 40 minutes a day, people I didn’t mind spending a few minutes to get in contact with outside of school, even if they were stupid conversations and chain mail…heh.
I would never dream of doing something like that now, mostly because I could just find them on Facebook and then message them “Hey what’s your email?”
But when I found those handwritten email addresses, now gone the way of physical contact books, I realized that the way I communicate with people has changed dramatically. Even though my 26 year old brother reminds me that I barely remember life before the Internet (I have vague memories of dial up when I was in kindergarten), I also can’t quite relate to middle schoolers texting on their iPhones and fluent in social media lingo. I do remember what it was like before smartphones and widespread instant messaging.
In late elementary school/early middle school, it looked something like this:
Instant Messaging: IT WAS SO COOL TO BE ONLINE THE SAME TIME AS SOMEONE AND BE ABLE TO TALK TO THEM. IN. REAL. TIME. I would schedule times to IM my friends, or secretly hope that someone I knew was online. Otherwise, I would send them an email. Chat statuses on Gmail were the coolest thing ever.
Calling: I had to get the phone numbers of my friends’ landlines, call them, get through their parents (“Hi this is Amy, one of Julia’s classmates. Can I talk to Julia?”) before asking some question about homework.
Email: There was a point where I had 20 email conversations going on with a friend. I used to be a chain mail forwarder. (I’m so sorry.) I could email my friends (or even all of my email contacts) with a draft of a story I had written out of the blue, ask for feedback, and expect them to respond.
Now it looks like this:
Instant Messaging: The assumption is that you’re online more often than not. I take reaching someone almost instantly for granted.
Calling: Many people I know don’t even have landlines anymore, and I can reach them directly, no proxy (assuming that I have their number). I’m more likely to voice/video chat them now as well. But now I feel like have to text someone “Hey is it alright if I call” before I call. Otherwise, it’s too surprising, too spontaneous.
Email: I think this analogy is appropriate:
Email: IM :: WordPress: Facebook
In other words, email is the older version of the more convenient technology that most people don’t bother using anymore. Yet I use it because it has a degree of formality, the pause when you know that someone has set aside the time to read things, a bit more secluded from the rush.
Even this is a primitive description of modern technology. I still don’t have 1) a data plan on my phone, 2) unlimited text, 3) Snapchat, or 4) Instagram. 3 Regardless, I still talk to people online more than I do in person, and I hear enough about the lack of face to face communication in my generation. I wonder about all the lost subtleties in technological communication- the awkward pauses, the awkward eye contact, the awkward laughs, everything wonderfully awkward and personal.
And is that really worth the cost of not being able to talk with some people at all? In other words, is the missed connection, the missed communication really worth?
- But let’s be honest, if I asked for numbers/emails in the way I took pictures, I would constantly hate myself because I would constantly not feel comfortable doing it. Wait that’s why I’m writing this post. ↩
- I used to swear on carrying index cards everywhere like I swear on carrying plastic bags everywhere now. They could serve as bookmarks, scrap paper, straightedges, and uh, I don’t actually remember. ↩
- I suspect that with those 4 things, I would be more likely to ask people to stay in touch. Sharing Instagram/Snapchat handles is a thing, and had I texted more, maybe I’d have a reason to ask more people for their numbers. ↩