I wish my grandmother could see my baby cousin, and meet my fiance. I wish she could enjoy Michelle Obama's clothes. But most of all, I wish my grandmother had lived to enjoy texting. Allow me to explain:
The Washington Post ran a piece over the weekend about the "texting generation" and their poor phone etiquette. "None of the kids call us back! They will not call you back," complains one woman in the article, which contrasts boomers' proclivity for telephone conversation with their offsprings' addiction to the keypad.
But whether it's wholly generational would be hard to say, because my grandmother hated talking on the phone more than anyone I've ever known. This was in stark contrast to her husband, my grandfather, who called all his offspring at least once a day. Grandma, however, was MIA. When, on occasion, he'd force her to say hello, she was always polite - a lady to her core, she'd make a few moments of polite small-talk before firmly hanging up - but her discomfort was palpable. Whether it was her naturally retiring nature, the public placement of the telephone in their house, or simply a bone-deep disinclination, she never took to the phone. Email quickly became her medium of choice, and as soon as their account had been installed, the inspirational chain-letters and family anecdotes and AOL instant messages did fly.
Maybe it's inherited, because my own mother shares the phone-phobia. Whenever the phone rings - and after 30 years, for some reason it's still on her side of the bed, a ritual ensues.
"Harry, you get it!" She'll whisper, panic-stricken, or else just wordlessly hand him the receiver. If, in fact, the call is for her and he indicates that she'll be required to speak, her eyes widen with terror and she begins a series of wild gesticulations that indicate, roughly translated, "No! NO! NEVER! Don't you dare put me on NO NO NO STOP IT "Hello?"" This, if she hasn't physically run out of the room. On those rare occasions when she's the only one in the house, her greeting is sepulchral, her voice full of poorly-concealed dread.
And yet, she's always angry that I don't answer the phone! That's not strictly true: if it's a work matter, or an appointment confirmation, I'll take a call. But for anyone else, or anything I deem non-essential, I am notorious not merely for not answering, but for failing to return voicemails. The reasons for this are more clear-cut. I may have inherited the neuroses of my distaff side, but I can trace my phobia to 7th Grade, when my piping voice became the subject of unrelenting mockery in class after class and finally, in French, led to my running out of a classroom sobbing. I do have a terrible voice: everyone says that but in my case it's true. I sound like an anthropomorphic animal on a cartoon show with a really low budget, and whenever possible I prefer to shield people from it. I never, ever talk on the phone voluntarily, like a latter-day Lena Lamont - minus the whole Dueling Cavalier thing.
Texting, however, is another matter. I'll text you back in seconds, and in complete and grammatical sentences. I text with the frequency and enthusiasm of a 14-year-old British schoolboy. I've stopped short of harassing tween girls, but if I ever wanted to do that, I daresay this would be my medium of choice. The text is a lifesaver to those of us who hate the phone: succinct, convenient, with the added benefit of providing addresses in writing.
I recently attenpted to initiate my mother into its (to her) mysteries. She's was resistant, until I said the magic words: you'll never need to talk on the phone again. This was, of course, not remotely true since, as the article makes clear, her generation is still very much hipped on mano-a-mano. But her eyes widened with wonder and she applied herself to the Alt key with new determination. Nowadays, she and I communicate by text. And were my grandmother alive today and were she not arthritic, I daresay we'd be three generations of women, happily avoiding phone conversation for the rest of our lives.
Texting Generation Doesn't Share =Boomers' Taste For Talk [Washington Post]