Do you remember childhood in the 1980s as I do? It wasn’t Mayberry, but it was good. We had all night neighborhood hide-and-seek adventures and weekend long football battles in the park. If I wanted to talk with my friend, I called him on the cordless phone and asked if we could meet at the 7/11, or I walked the half mile to his house.
Those carefree, outdoor, in-person days are becoming rarer in our technological highway of a culture. Our kids grow up on social media and text their friends instead of meeting up. And I hate to admit it, but even as an adult who grew up in a face-to-face world, it’s easy for me to fall into the screen game myself.
I get caught up with work, so I text my aging dad, who I haven’t talked to in a week, instead of visiting him. My kid is struggling in 3rd period Geography, so I email the teacher rather than meeting up for a good old-fashioned parent-teacher conference. It’s less time consuming and more convenient to text or email.
The convenience doing everything the online way leaves me wondering, though: What are we missing out on when we choose online rather than in person? I’ve nailed it down to four things.
When was the last time you went to a family reunion and reminisced with your siblings, “Do you guys remember that EPIC group text we all had last year? Man, that will stick with me forever.” Never? The truth is, you can’t make memories through text. You can make memes, you can possibly even make it on to Buzzfeed’s “Hilarious Texts From Parents That Will Never Get Old” list, but you cannot make real, lasting best-man-speech-worthy memories. Those kinds of memories take real-life interactions to create. They take work, but they’re worth it.
The next time you’re tempted to send an email or a Facebook message to catch up with an old friend, consider simply writing, “Hey, let’s get together next Friday for drinks.” Your friend will appreciate the invite, guaranteed, and you have an excuse to go out, have a great guys night, and make some real memories, which may or may not end up on Buzzfeed.
Are you familiar with the Android v. Apple grimace face debacle? There was an emoji that showed up differently on-screen depending on which cell phone manufacturer it sent from or which received it. On an iPhone, it looked like a grimace (an expression of disgust), whereas on an Android it appeared as a huge smile. You could text your Aunt Berta on your Android, “I loved that apple pie you made [big smile emoji],” and she would read it on her Apple as, “I really loved that apple pie you made [grimace face].” How do you think Aunt Berta would feel about getting a text like that? Confused, irritated, or offended–take your pick.
Facial expression errors don’t happen in person. Do you love Aunt Berta’s pie? You tell her so with a big smile plastered on your face and maybe even a hug. I guarantee she won’t question whether your smile is a grimace, and she’ll appreciate the hug (another bonus of in-person interaction).
I use the Aunt Berta example in jest, but in all honesty, if there is something important you wish to say, don’t tell it through text or online. The people you care about deserve the full treatment, awkward facial expressions and all.
Can you conjure up a childhood memory of your dad’s deep baritone voice, your mom’s soft tenor, or your annoying little sister’s high pitched soprano with a hint of squeal? Don’t those sounds resonate in your memory and make the thoughts feel more warm and comfortable somehow? Now imagine your mom’s tone as she yelled at you to get your muddy shoes off the table. Brings a smirk to your face, doesn’t it? You can’t get that tone of voice online.
Say you’re writing a final email after the back-and-forth has gotten a bit heated, and you’d like your next response to come across as gentle. Unfortunately, there is no ‘gentle’ key. You could type in italics, but it might leave your reader confused.
Or maybe you’re angry, and you want to convey annoyance. You can use exclamation points, but the reader might take that as excitement.
Some people TYPE IN ALL CAPS to signify enthusiasm. It’s a fact, though, that people read all caps as an aggressive text. There is just no consistent way to signify tone of voice online.
Try having a conversation in real life. Use your voice as the instrument it was made to be.
Are we so overloaded with technology that we’re losing the ability to connect with others emotionally? There is some compelling research that claims this may be precisely what’s happening. Less in-person interaction leads to less understanding of others people’s emotions and feelings.
I won’t deny that screens make life a whole lot easier. World news is a click away, and you can look up a recipe for dinner with a few taps on the keyboard (I know I’m not the only dad out there who cooks dinner). Your devices are at your beck and call, but have you ever stopped to realize that you are also at theirs? Think about all the distractions that the online world throws your way. Your cell phone beeps and your computer dings. All these noises might be preventing your brain from doing the weighty thinking that also enables you to connect on a deep level with others. We need that human connection that only an in-person community can offer. Sit there and think about that for a minute, without looking at a screen for the answers.
If you want to connect in person with other dads in your area, attend a Fathers Eve event where dads meetup, share laughs, and ruminate on this crazy adventure we call the Dad life.