I was chatting with my friend Ben Awhile, who still lives up in the rust belt1,2 about correspondents dropping out of rotation. “Correspondents” loosely collecting folks we (Ben and I) used to email, USPS3, telephone, text, see face-to-face4 and so on. Regularly. Weekly. At minimum, monthly, or by agreement, annually. Neither Ben nor I are much into Twitter, Tweak, Belch, FART5 InstantAnyText, IM, PDQ, or Heard-it-before-you-sent-it. We frankly, have our old-codger hands full with what we’ve got going now.
Ben and I both communicated with Justonne Caremuch for years. Suddenly, she stopped responding. Ben managed to contact her through Facebook. He described that event as something just short of traumatic, his screen a blur of changing images, distorting their brief conversation. Ben then related that conversation, shared with about eleven thousand other people, most of whom Ben said he didn’t know. Justonne insisted if we were concerned about the health and well-being of her Schnauzer or her latest lemon meringue recipe, we should log on to Facebook five or six times a day.
She further admonished Ben and suggested he tell me, that when we did log on and saw her “posts,” it was customary to record “likes” for those posts. If we didn’t mind, we should alert others to her new recipe and how well her Schnauzer was recovering from his (or its, now, I guess) operation. Better yet, Justonne suggested, we should install apps on our phones for immediate updates. So as not to miss anything important.
Ben was a little hurt that Justonne didn’t inquire after his son’s recent election as state Senator up in snowmobile land. That cost me twenty minutes on the phone listening to Ben lament the changes in our society. Which I agreed with wholeheartedly. At least, when we’re kvetching about the communications breakdowns Ben and I see.
It all puts me to mind of the seen-it-all-too-often, “We should get together and do lunch someday.” You know that never happens. Lunch isn’t ever gonna happen. Here are some reasons6, I think why that is.
We “don’t have time” anymore. Well, that’s a ton of crap, but that’s what we all believe. Especially with the current “lockdown” situations, whatever they may be where you are. We have time to binge-watch television shows we saw ten years ago and didn’t care for then. We have time to scroll social website pages, seeing people we know, but more people we don’t know and never will know in a thousand years. We have time to research the Royal family’s escapades. We have time to see what the Kardash-people think is cool, politically correct, or what insanely insipid things they’re up to now.
“It’s not convenient.” Well, sure, this is easy to see. We’re all busy running hither-and-yon with life’s daily happenings. Maybe six months ago, Charlie, not anymore. I don’t care if you’re a parent busy-to-death homeschooling twelve kids. You’re home. That means your butt is planted on the couch, affording you ample opportunity to poke out a few words. Homeschooling? If you have twelve kids, I have a book for you to read about birth control. If they’re not all your kids, where the hell are the other parents, or are you getting filthy rich extending your services? If you can’t put your charges to an independent, unassisted task, giving you a few free moments, your home-school skills need some work. Covid19 assures virtually everyone time and convenience unless you’re a nurse or doctor. Don’t give me any BS about working extra hours to stock shelves in the grocery. That stocking isn’t happening; therefore, you aren’t doing it; you aren’t in the bar watching the televised games that aren’t happening; your butt is at home. With time on your hands and convenient to your “communicating” device.
“It’s too difficult.” Spellcheck, if nothing else introduces some real humor with the typos it substitutes while eliminating what you’d intended. Who gives a rip anyway? If you knew there was a mistake would you remove it? Beyond thinking you lazy, would I care? (I am concerned that spellcheck suggests the prospects for life introduced by AI should scare the hell out of everyone. We are doomed. Or is that “domed” or “do me”?) Now, as demonstrated by one of my amazing tech-savvy kids, you don’t even need fingers. Talk to some “app” loaded to your phone from Automata-R-Us. If you have trouble moving your jaw, you have other, much more important things to be concerned with.
“I don’t care anymore.” Now this one’s real. If you’ve a formerly dear friend who suddenly doesn’t care what is going on in your life or to share their lives with you, I feel for you. Just as I feel for my own losses. Given the number of correspondents I’ve lost the last two years, sheer probability says some of them fit this category. Nothing I can do about it.
“Can’t be bothered with it.” Sadly, that also is statistically likely, and also sadly another cause about which I can do little.
Reciprocity. Hard to explain. I started it, so I’ll give it a shot. Taking time to sit down, look at the last exchange, see what needs updating both ways, noting what questions are still outstanding, and accounting for the likes, interests, and politics of the other correspondent before composing, reading, editing, and sending a reply, it is disconcerting to receive a three-sentence answer. Oft as not, weeks or months later. Causes huge panics trying to discover what insult I mindlessly let escape edit. Finding none, persisting with another lengthy and honest epistle, eliciting yet another three-sentence response, one sees (pardon the rather apt pun) the handwriting on the wall. Certainly, the handwriting is not in the email. (No one would bother with a three-sentence USPS except in anger, which would in itself afford closure.) I’m sorry, give me enough of that, I’ll myself adopt the three-sentence format. The kicker is, that engenders indignance on the other end, and you guessed it, subsequent silence.
Death. Yeah. Some of the folks Ben and I used to correspond with died. Ben or I found out through an un-mutual correspondent and shared the sad news. Got off condolences to family if we knew how to manage that. Not much you can do about death closing the books on a correspondence. If you discover the error of my thinking, I’d really like to hear about it. So would countless other people. And you stand to become wealthier than a Bezo Bozo.
Finally, I believe there’s yet another after-effect of Covid19. Whether you’re recovered, have only been exposed, or have been simply (and horrendously) inconvenienced. People incur the inability to use their fingers. Whether that be to type meaningful messages: home-and-family updates, been-so-damned-hot-here, or the docs changed my tennis elbow meds. To dial the phone for a long-overdue chat. To poke out something in a text message that looks surprisingly like some language – English, French, or Latvian – instead of some acronymic jungle. To sit down with a pen or pencil and a clean sheet of paper and scribble “I love you,” or “How’s your Schnauzer?”
Actually, and at risk of revealing how shallow I am, I admit I had a list of about forty regular correspondents. I took a look this morning. There are twelve people left. Two of those, going back over ten years, have always been annual or semi-annual exchanges. Not talking mass-printed and mailed “Christmas at the Wardlow’s” or “It’s been a hectic year” pieces. Those are okay. Mostly. Disappointing, but okay. Those particular two old correspondents will be there when it’s time. I know they will. Over the years, I’ve learned what kind of people they are. So I’m certain.
The others? The thirty-odd drop-offs? I miss them. I’ve sent two or three un-responded emails and letters. Called a couple of times and had delightful chats with machines. I’m now to the point, I don’t care. That’s sad. That’s fact. But I can concentrate on those who think communicating (with me) might be worthwhile. Me, Ben, and the other twelve. Until some of us die.
*1 Rust belt: A loosely grouped band of US (of) A states not long-ago really good places to live, work, and play that for shifting economic environments, aging (and presumed less robust) populations, worsening infrastructures, were once home to a lot more US citizens than they are today. Many, many, many former citizens having relocated well south to places with less severe winter weather, greater availability of citrus fruit, cool observation points for watching hurricane comings-and-goings, and easy access to jai alai frontons. “Rust belt” suggesting that for snowy winters, in some places salted winter roads, neglected industrial facilities, and arthritically creaking knees, elbows, hips, and shoulders, most everything there is no longer bright and shiny, having developed a patina of rust.
*2 Ben, in the same conversation, reminded me Rust Belt states are still great places to live. It all depends, Ben said, on how much you’re into isolation, snowmobiling, skiing, stacking firewood, shoveling snow, and putting off trips for groceries because roads are iced over and will be for two or three days. Covid19 toilet paper shoppers, and hurricane-alley wait-it-out stalwarts could take lessons from Rust Belters, experts on the arts and sciences of stocking-up. “Just in case, don’t you know?”
*3 USPS – United States (of America) Postal Service. A much and unjustly maligned mail delivery service. I do in fact, remember using four-cent stamps to send letters. That’s now fifty-five cents. There’s a rant there. Let me write that down so I don’t forget. The USPS is now, mistakenly, and again unjustly, derisively referred to as “snail mail.”
*4 Face-to-face: Until four months ago, a common form of communications. It requires only two people, though more can be so deployed. They must, however, be in close proximity. There is little need for bolding, italicizing, all-caps, or colored text. Punctuation is never a concern. Expert face-to-face communicators have been known to employ facial expression; volume control; and arm, torso, and hand-and-finger gesticulations, artfully and effectively. The National Museum of Sociology is frantically filming what still-occurring instances are reported for posterity.
*5 Fast And Reliable Texting. A relatively new service which purports to simplify text-messaging. It works like this: You open a conversation with someone who also is a FARTer, their smartphone, iPad, PC, laptop, health-tracking wristwatch, or office computer (optionally with an appropriate audio alert on both devices) composes an AI-formatted response. Your device, then (again with optional audio alert) responds to that response, hands-off. And on and on. After the initial message, it’s all automatic. Work is in-progress to automate the first message, but there are hurdles. Busy YouTubers and Facebookers with this app installed, need not be distracted or bothered by actually communicating with other people. The veracity of these communications has been questioned, but the FART people assure “loved-this” “Sure!” “Me too!” “Ditto!” “Love you!” “TTYL” “Oh. My. God!” sundry emojis, and even the occasional semi-intelligent random word-phrases are well-chosen. In fact, South Hempstead Institute of Technology warrants that ninety percent of the time, exchanged responses make more sense than those prepared by real people.
*6 Not to excuse, “something is wrong with my email,” “my voicemail went on the fritz,” and other laments, I’m after the “social,” not “mechanical” reasons. Folks who use these excuses for not maintaining contact, especially repeatedly using them, are suspect anyway.