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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