virtual children by Scott Warnock

Talk is cheap… but it’s not disappearing just yet

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It’s a pretty regular occurrence lately. I’ll be in one part of the house, and I get a text from another part. Now, I know you think that I’m a high-paid blogger, living in a mansion that requires long-distance intra-abode electronic communications, but the truth is that my living arrangements are modest, with all parts reachable via shout, if not slightly elevated voice.

So why don’t these people, these young people nestled in the corners of my residence, call me on the phone?

The use of the phone as an audio-only speaking device seems to be fading. Of course, people use these devices for furious communications, but those communications are visual, textual, multimedia; they’re Tweets and Snapchats and snippets of multimedia stories.

Look, I’m a compositionist by trade, so I don’t find that there’s anything wrong with these other modes of communication. Writing, after all, is fundamentally multimodal.

But in expressing ourselves with this range of tools, are we eliding our “voices” by always accompanying those voices with other parts of our lives (like, especially, cats moving around in the background)?

The proliferation of these multimedia dialogues also seems to breed a kind of forcing-myself-upon-others dynamic. You Facetime to see the other person, creating a multimedia experience, and you assume that everyone on the damn train is interested in hearing your dialogue.

It’s shared, exposed, imposed.

But make no mistake about it, kids, you’re still going to talk on the phone in professional life, says Lindsey Pollak in “Managing Millenials Q&A.” You’re going to need to have that skill, Pollak says, and having a discomfort or unfamiliarity with it could be a disadvantage professionally.

I get that. So often I watch people trying to sort out an issue via text, and I think and in fact sometimes say/blurt out, “Why don’t you just call and take advantage of the wonders of verbal, synchronous dialogue?” People like when I say stuff like that — especially people on the train who at that moment come to the jarring realization that I’ve been peeking at their texts.

Some of my friends and a few of my colleagues think I’m nuts for giving my students my cell phone number, but the reality is that students don’t call me. They might text, but the intrusive phone call ain’t happening. I’m pretty safe. I have a few students I work with who have great personalities, but they act like they have an allergy to a phone call. They just don’t do it.

Communications technologies seem to me to be at their best when they are additive: They augment what is. Texting has its place, but it doesn’t necessarily have to have replaced the phone call. I think you should be able to express yourself on-your-feet in a verbal conversation, demonstrate as Pollak says a knowledge of “common sense” phone etiquette – and this coming from a guy who sees value in the writing that is inherent in texting.

If the kids think I’m wrong? Tell them to give me a call. We’ll talk it over.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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2 Responses to “Talk is cheap… but it’s not disappearing just yet”

  1. No one wants to hear you ramble on about toenail fungus, D & D or punctuation. Don’t bother waiting up for me, I’ll be home when I feel like it. All work better in text format.

  2. Henry calls me all the time! He doesn’t even text first to say “hey is this a good time to call?” He just calls!! Yes, he is the exception not the rule these days!!

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