I used to talk with people in person more often, or at least I'd give them a call. Now I just e-mail or text them. It's so much easier.
Here in the office, if I need to ask someone a question or talk with her or him briefly, I could get out of my chair and walk down the hall and do it face-to-face. Instead, I tap away on my keyboard.
I know—e-mail is more efficient. The rules of face-to-face communication seem to require a bit of personal conversation ("How was your weekend?") that can sidetrack us.
And there's the shyness factor. Many people, even those of us who are gregarious much of the time, can feel a bit clumsy and self-conscious about starting an in-person conversation. I don't worry about that when I e-mail. The keyboard doesn't mind if my hair is mussed or my shirt wrinkled or if I have coffee breath. The more hooked on e-mail I've become, the more my self-consciousness has grown about initiating a live conversation.
This habit has been bothering me a while, and I was reminded of it by an essay in yesterday's New York Times ("Talking Face to Face Is So...Yesterday"). The essay's author, Dominique Browning, noted that face time can be exhausting. "Maybe that's why we're all so quick to abandon it," she wrote. "From grandfathers to tweenies, we're all taking advantage of the ways in which we can avoid actually talking, much less seeing, one another—but still stay connected."
Browning went on: "Seeing faces burdens us with responsibilities we may be too weary to shoulder. I’ve gotten used to not having to deal with everything that gets dragged in behind those voices, smiles and laughs. Things like the wince in the forehead, when you’ve been too sharp. Or the shadow across the eyes when you’ve hurt a feeling."
In a virtual conversation, silence is meaningless, Browning wrote. In a live conversation, "silences are resonant, often resplendent, moments of connection. Face-to-face silence means, I’m thinking, I’m listening, I’m searching, I’m feeling your pain. Not, I’ve hung up."
I miss that intimacy. I much prefer it to the efficiency I gain from my gadget conversations. I want more face time (the real kind, not the new one Apple is offering on their devices) and more voice time. So I'm going to try to change. This week, I'll make calls more often instead of e-mailing or texting, and I'll opt more frequently for in-person chats in the office. I'm looking forward to trying this, though it also makes me a little uneasy.