Monday, September 24, 2007

Angel of Death? Please Hold

I have some older folks in my family who refuse to use voice mail. My mom has it on her cell phone don’t bother leaving her a message. She’s not checking it. I’ve shown her how, but just having a mobile is as far as she is willing to go on the tech front. This is a woman who doesn't have e-mail or an ATM card, and doesn’t want them. How she survives without the modern convenience of computer viruses and ATM fees is beyond me.

Older folks seem equally unenthusiastic about text messaging. For them the opposable thumb is merely a symbol of human superiority; a reminder of why we - for good or ill – are the species in charge. Historically, the thumb has gotten a bit of a work out from hitchhikers and Fonzi fans, but hither to the fingers that did the most work were the index and middle.

Who foresaw the rise of texting and the active role the thumb would play? The muscles and fine motor skills of older thumbs are not always up to the task of texting. They require a full size qwerty keyboard to express their thoughts. And most can still proudly do so at 80 to 100 full, correctly spelled words a minute; sans cute abbreviations, a la LOL.

Fresh in my memory is The Great Text Messaging Debacle of 2005. I won’t go into it, but suffice it to say: if someone (who shall remain nameless, but we’ll call her, "Mom") is unfamiliar with text messaging, explain it to them first so the messages and sounds don’t surprise them and make them think their phone is broken or, god forbid, "possessed."

I have a few aunts and uncles who are truly old school. They don't have cell phones, voice mail or answering machines. If they're home they answer the phone. If they're not, they don't. And I love how they answer. They are the generation that still actively practices telephone etiquette. They don't pick up with, "Yo!" "Wuzzzup!" "Speak!" "Who dis?" "Where you at?" They are so polite and formal I sometimes think I’ve mis-dialed and reached a business.

Lately when I call I hear worry and hesitation in their voices as if they are finally beginning to regret not having an answering machine to screen their calls. I hope hearing the voice of their favorite niece, god daughter or cousin will dispel their disquiet, but it doesn’t. Why would they be worried about talking to me? I’m not calling to borrow money.

The problem is I’m just a special occasion caller. And since I call so infrequently, they assume that when I do it’s going to be bad news. They expect the worst. They expect death. When I called one of my Uncles to invite him my birthday dinner. We were barely through the pleasantries when he said, "Is everything okay?" Sub text: "Who died?"
"Yes, everything's fine," I said. Sub text: "Nobody."

He went on to say, in his ever so poetic way, "At my age, I never know when someone is calling to invite me to sing 'Nearer My God to Thee.'" Well if that doesn’t make me feel like the angel of death, I don’t know what does.

Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, is considering a plan that would send text messages to the citizens of Gotham in case of an emergency. It could say: "OMG! BFD! Get your BFF, leave NYC, PDQ! GL, Have a GR8 day!"

Translation: "Oh my, God! Big freakin’ deal! Get your best friend forever, leave New York City, pretty damn quick! Good luck, Have a great day."

Is this "Logan’s Run" for the new millennium? Text messaging ensures that the Razor, Sidekick and Black Berry crowd will survive the next calamity, but the older people are on their own. They’ll be standing around wondering why they’re cell phones are flashing and beeping. The ones with answering machines will be screening their calls. Those with neither modern convenience -- what's left of The Great Generation -- will have to resort to the classic duck and cover. GL.

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