Thursday, August 3, 2017

Forget emails. Just call.

"Now they tell me!" said
Donald J. Trump, Jr. 

During the past few days I've soured on that modern addiction to e-mails, a communication medium that frequently creates confusion and misunderstanding and can even get one of your mammaries in the wringer.  

Yesterday I called my friend Barbara to find out how she was doing after a nasty accident in which she sliced open one of her arms from her wrist to nearly past her elbow. 

I could have sent a short, hi-how-are-ya email, as I tend to do, that would have fulfilled my social obligation to inquire about the welfare of a sick or injured friend, but without really exchanging much warmth, emotion or detail. 

In other words, a formality, a way to communicate but not really.  

Instead I called her and we spoke for about twenty minutes—about the briefest conversation possible with a Texas talker like Barbara—in which she filled me in on the details of her recovery, how one of the Mexican neighbors whom she hardly knew took her to the emergency room, how good and surprisingly inexpensive was the medical care she received. 

We enjoyed communicating with one another, as they say, in "real time."

This morning we called Richard to wish him a happy birthday, the actual number of years at this point a closely guarded secret between him and his husband Don. Richard was out on some errand but Don said he'd pass on the message and I'm sure he'll call back and we will talk about movies and exchange gossip and jokes, anything but his age. 

The most insipid type of modern communications has to be the "e-card" prepared and sent, for a fee, by one Jackie Lawson, a mythical interpreter of personal feelings who's really a computer somewhere in South Dakota. 

It's the sappiest and most impersonal way to express any message, be it sympathy or congratulations. 
It usually involves an illustration with moving birds, trees or rabbits, harmonized with equally saccharine e-music. 

It would be a profoundly moving gesture if friends actually sat down and doodled the cards themselves, no matter how ineptly. But it's not: Instead you pick a topic from a computer-generated menu and for a modest fee—ka-chink!—Jackie will capture and transmit your most sincere and heartfelt feelings. 

I've been surprised how normally terse people can open up at the sound of a sympathetic voice. Recently our friend Don's wife Sheryl died—not "passed away"—and rather than an emailed condolence Stew called him in Canada. They spoke for about a half-hour, sharing loving memories of Sheryl that even the most eloquent email could not convey. 

There is also the grenade-like peril of impulsiveness in emails, which are not nearly as private as we think. 


I should have called first?
One time an explicitly amorous message between a woman working for me and my boss accidentally crash landed in my email inbox. Uh-oh. 

Another time a raunchy observation that I meant for one person got bollixed up by the "reply to all" option and went out to a hundred people I didn't even know. Make that a double "uh-oh."

In the old days of written correspondence, involving pen and ink, there was a lag time between the brain and the tip of the pen, and your feelings were tempered by the physical presence of paper and your words in front of your eyes, be they love or anger, or sleaziness or other lower emotions not suitable for third parties.  

Not so with emails. Just ask Trump Jr. whose impulsiveness, combined with his towering arrogance and dimwittedness—a volatile mixture—put him and his tweet-happy dad in deep trouble, as if they needed any more.

Maybe he should have pondered, hmm, who is this Russian Mata-Hari and why is she calling me? Maybe I should find out—call someone—before replying "I love it!," setting up meetings at Trump Tower, with however many people, and then having to spend several weeks discombobulating, dissembling, consulting with lawyers and trying to roll back what couldn't be. 

Next time, Donny, call first.

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11 comments:

  1. It sent a chill up my spine to see there is at least one other person in this universe who knows that people die. They do not "pass away" or, far worse, "pass."

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    1. Glad to keep you chilled, Felipe, and that you haven't passed yet, passed by, passed out, passed over or just plain passed.

      al

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  2. Sad news to read, this I believe to be Reggie's sister. While in San Miguel for three months we met the whole clan on quite of few coffee and lunch outings. Peter in fact was going to show Sheryl how to use her mandolin as it was collecting dust on her shelf. However she was not well and was going to see her doctors in Canada. They were a lovely couple and really welcomed us into the fold. Our condolances to Don, Reggie and Pearlie.

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    1. Don and Sheryl were one of the first people we met in San Miguel and one of the loveliest. It was a shame that Sheryl died and that she went through such a long struggle. Don is supposed to be coming to San Miguel at the end of August. If we can arrange it, Stew and I would love to have lunch or dinner with you too.

      al

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    2. Don and Sheryl were one of the first people we met in San Miguel and one of the loveliest. It was a shame that Sheryl died and that she went through such a long struggle. Don is supposed to be coming to San Miguel at the end of August. If we can arrange it, Stew and I would love to have lunch or dinner with you too.

      al

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  3. Some day, we'll meet face-to-face. I'm looking forward to it.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where it seems like email is the only way to reach some people.

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    1. My face is here, all you need to do is bring yours! I'm looking forward to it too.

      al

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  4. "Passed away" and "passed" are as bad as "went home to Jesus," all signalling magical thinking that the dead actually went somewhere.

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    1. "Went home to Jesus"!? Never heard that one. Thanks for sharing it, I think.

      al

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  5. I have to admit that I was slightly dumbfounded when the phone rang and it was you, Al. In fact, as you know, I did not recognize your voice. We DID talk for quite a while, until your supper was ready. It was lovely. But, after we hung up, I DID wonder what had caused you to call me. Isn't it sad that we all don't call each other more often. I so agree on all of your comments about emails and e-cards. I always send hand-written thank you notes. People are absolutely dumbfounded. On another note, for those of us who have hand our child or husband "die",or very close family or friends, let me say, we do feel better thinking they have "passed on to another level of consciousness". It soothes our shattered souls.

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  6. Al, we would love that too however we are back in British Columbia now. We only spent three months in San Miguel at Barbara's lovley house. I would love to see that school mural that she just blogged about. Please say hello to Don and tell him how very sorry we are. We really met some of the most people while there.

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