Amy French

I’m officially old enough to begin a sentence with “back in my day” and fill in the blank with something my kids or younger friends don’t care to hear or do not understand.

This is your chance to get out.

Still here?

Back in my day, we had to communicate face to face.

We didn’t text. Instant messaging meant speaking to a person.

I recently—I mean an hour ago—dropped my child off for an event.

Before driving away, I wanted to know all was good, nothing else needed.

Slowly I crept out of the parking lot, looking from person to person hoping to get a reassuring nod or wave. Every person, eyes down, on their cell phone. Fully engaged elsewhere.

I drove off.

I remember the first brick cell phone my husband carried to work for a telecommunications company. That monster could’ve knocked someone out, but he was on the cutting edge. Using it would’ve sunk our budget.

Cell phones are brilliant and useful—I’d argue my single greatest tool for work. Social media also has its place though I’d never call it brilliant. Yet for all the connectedness, we are so very far apart.

I am mourning what feels like the loss of real relationships.

As a writer, a lover of words, you would think this is where I flourish—only using words on devices.

I will always like using words. It is a weird world, however, where much of my day-to-day communication involves isolated words. Words that are separated from the “speaker” and void of intended tone.

A terse text or email may simply be a quick response by the sender to be sure I’m not left hanging. Yet the brevity and separation from any and all context of facial expression, voice inflections, can often leave me second guessing intent.

This is fertile ground for anxiety.

It unintentionally triggers defense systems.

When a teenage child texts from the next room of our home, I can almost guarantee it is because there is bad news involved, a fearful question about to be birthed.

I am suddenly on alert.

It may be nothing unusual, but I am suspect.

I worry that coping skills are being stunted.

Do not say, emojis will fix this when what is missing is actual emoting.

It is understanding one another. It is how people handle differences, comfort, celebrate. We look one another in the face and see someone else is experiencing something we have, without a single typed character.

Dare I say, it is why we were designed with faces? Not faces to be covered over with an Instagram filter.

When I wrecked my car the first time as a teen, there was no shirking the face-to-face that ensued with my mom.

Though that was a fearful circumstance, I learned from it.

Her anger, her shock, her frustration were also tempered with relief for her child was not hurt, had not hurt someone.

The range of emotion conveyed and received were in correct proportion.

When the face-to-face is eliminated, people can believe that the consequences of the isolated words are eliminated.

YELLING AT SOMEONE DIGITALLY OR EVEN IN PRINT can leave the other deflated, berated, discouraged, but unable to illicit or receive sympathy or empathy or any understanding at all.

Unless you use them well, words can be angry. Punctuation, capitalization can massively alter meaning?

The answer is yes and no it wasn’t a question.

This does still not mean that meaning is fully appreciated.

People begin to think that bullying online is harmless. They “say” what they never would were they in a room with you. The emotional exchange that helps us understand one another and where the other is coming from is removed. So we frequently double down on a position and assume the other is out of touch.

Studies bear this out. Face-to-face communication fosters more positive feelings and positive feedback. People connect better. It also reduces self-centeredness. It removes that sense of living in a bubble (as well as the tendency of “I am always right.”) Building relationships, addressing sensitive topics, grasping what someone else is telling you and developing trust are all enhanced when you are looking someone in the face.

It is as if we were made for relationships.

The other option stunts emotional intelligence.

This morning a simple nod or wave would have gone a long way for a mom leaving a kid behind.

I guess I can always shoot her a text.

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