Joan Rivers, where are you? We need your "Can we talk?" comedy routine. The art of talking is dying. I don't mean on TV or radio, where people drivel on nonstop, but in real-life situations such as work, school and home. People don't use their tongues to communicate anymore. They use cellphones -- but not to talk, to text.
I didn't realize how far texting had progressed until recently, when my 11-year-old granddaughter, Ariel, from North Hempstead came to visit us in Holbrook for a couple days. We talked face to face at first, using our mouths, ears and eyes. I asked about school, and she told me which subjects she preferred and how wonderful her teachers were. She named her best friends and shared one thing she liked about each. Eventually our conversation turned to the meal she and I would prepare together: tomato sauce with sausage, ribs and meatballs served over rigatoni, her all-time favorite.
It wasn't until I asked what she'd like to do while I tended to some personal correspondence that the truth emerged. Did she want to read, watch TV or play a game?
"Talk to my friends," she answered.
"No problem," I said, and pointed to the house phone and Nassau white pages.
"I have my cell, Grandma. Their numbers are programmed in."
Right, I thought, recognizing that we'd moved into the 21st century.
Fifteen minutes passed, but no sound was heard. Worried, I went to check on her. I found her silently sitting on the couch in the family room, with her phone in hand.
"You didn't get through to your friends?" I asked.
"I did. We're talking."
Without words? My mind tried to make sense of it. Then I spotted the swift movements of her thumbs across the phone pad.
"You're texting rather than talking? Why?"
What could be easier than speaking?
"I listen to music and do other things as we text back and forth," she explained, rummaging through her clothes for something in the duffel bag she'd brought.
"I see," I said, not really seeing, although I did see how she and I were having a conversation at the same time as she was having one with her friends, and as she searched through her duffel bag.
Multitasking and quiet may be helpful in the office and the classroom, I reasoned, but texting doesn't give full attention to the demands of work or school. And it's deadening at home, not to mention while driving. Lost is the nuance and passion of the spoken word. Instead one reads phrases, very often shortened or misspelled, flat in tone, devoid of life.
Texting, like its cousin Facebook, is touted as a social advancement, but to me both are cold and lonely affairs. Yes, we exchange information by reaching out, but we're touching machines, not people. Technology should serve humanity, not diminish it. It makes sense to use our senses when we can, or we risk losing them.