antisocial age
Call me, please.
Call me, please.

The first time I heard the phrase, “the Information Age,” I wasn’t sure what it meant. The best I could figure it meant an explosion in knowledge was on the way. That, it so happens, was true. Two weeks ago I came across this strange unpronounceable word, “paraskevidekatriaphobia.” I googled it and found an online dictionary that pronounces it. It has nine or ten syllables. I gave up trying to determine just how many but it’s a lot. (Read on if you want to know the word’s meaning.) For sure we have easier ways to learn things now, but “the Information Age,” to me means something else. People don’t talk on the phone much anymore. Maybe we are entering the Antisocial Age.

Fewer people pick up the phone to talk. I get more calls on my landline from telemarketers than I do friends and family members. Instead they email me, text me, and send me private messages via Facebook. Yesterday alone I got 256 emails, multiple texts from eight people, and private FB messages from nine people. As for my old-fashioned landline phone, I got four calls and three of those were business calls. What this says to me is that outside of business people, folks don’t want to talk anymore, not on the phone at least.

I get flooded with messages. During the day, which for me can get quite hectic of late, I get emails, text messages, and my iPhone flashes up Facebook posts to me. A lot of times all these messages fly in at one time. Information Age, indeed. Some days I just want to unplug everything. I find it ironic. We’re connected and in touch more than ever but we don’t talk as much as we once did. I see this antisocial behavior a lot.

People don’t talk in restaurants. They sit there tapping away at their phones. I watched a married couple one night having dinner. Each sat there with their phone texting away. Neither said a word to the other. I was in a waiting room at the doctor’s office this past week with about a dozen patients. Nearly all of them were tapping away. No one said a word.

I was at dinner with five other people one night. One by one, all got engrossed in their smartphone. I finally got my iPhone out and joined the fray. Our table was as quiet as a tomb. When I at last complained, everyone put their phone down but even then they were distracted, glancing at their phone for the replies that were sure to come.

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he paved the way for a whole lot of texting. Today he’d probably text, “Mr. Watson — Come here — I want to see you.” When Miss Nicholson taught my classmates and me typing back at high school in the dark ages she didn’t know she was preparing us for all this email and text stuff. Now we’re stuck with it forever.

I don’t like having to answer a long text with a text of my own. Seeing the text is not easy nor is typing on the small screen. Isn’t it easier just to use the phone for what it was intended? Call me. Call me please.

The larynx beats the keypad. Case in point. A woman thought I was mad at her because of the text I sent in reply to hers. She took my message the wrong way. Texting is cryptic. You can’t get nuances across with a text message. Our voices can convey emotions and meanings without saying one word. I suppose the little smiley faces, hearts, frowning faces, and symbols known as emoji and emoticons do that to a degree but they come across as a bit juvenile. Inflection, volume, pitch, tone, and the rate at which we speak all communicate in addition to the words we choose. Texting just can’t match that and yet people insist on texting.

I was downtown in a coffee shop preparing for a meeting. I made a point of watching people walking down Main Street. Almost all walked with their phone held out front, neck bent down, and fingers texting away. I bet they wouldn’t do that in some of the wilderness places I go. You have to watch for snakes and stump holes. But text away they do with no regard for where their feet land. Doctors are starting to refer to a condition known as “text neck,” which results from holding your phone and looking down at an odd angle that stresses the spine. Neck pain, headaches, and arm and shoulder pain result. Americans sent 1.91 trillion text messages last year according to statistics from CITA, the Wireless Association. If that makes you suspect a text neck epidemic is arriving, you are right. Why risk that when you can pick up the phone and call.

The human voice can make over 500 distinct sounds. Add pitch and volume to the mix and the possibilities are infinite. So here we are in possession of this wonderful communications device but we prefer to tap a keypad instead. The conclusion I draw is that a lot of people just don’t want to talk. They want to send memos instead. I realize there are times when texting makes sense. Trapped in a boring meeting. Sending a text when you know for a fact the other person can’t talk, but otherwise we abuse this new form of communication. I tell people when I’m driving not to text me. Even though they know I’m driving and that it is illegal to text they send them anyway. I’ve used the iPhone’s Siri to speak my texts but, hey, why not just call instead! What a novel idea. Actually talking! And don’t bring up autocorrect and its frustrating and often comical messages like the woman who texted that she had “the sweatiest husband ever” when she meant “the sweetest husband ever.”

Texting is a nuisance and a problem. All but six states have banned texting while driving. (Georgia and South Carolina ban it.) Fourteen states and the District of Columbia outright ban hand-held devices. No one has banned talking yet. So why don’t we talk on the phone like we used to? Some people defend it saying texting saves time but I just don’t buy that. The keypads are tight and small and I make typo after typo, which I delete and start over. Does that sound like it saves time?

I guess we are just slaves to the Information Age and as old Walter Cronkite would say, “That’s the way it is.” Texting, as we’ve seen, really is a pain in the neck. Now about that mouthful of a word, “paraskevidekatriaphobia?” It means fear of Friday the 13th, and I can’t speak for you but I’d rather try to say it than text it. Wouldn’t you?

Image: the photo is by the author, Tom Poland.

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at Email me at [email protected]