Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oh, shut up, Susan Schwartz

Once again, the blog muse has been awakened by an op ed piece in today’s paper. It is one of those rants against modern communication technology you see on a regular basis. These rants, one notes, are never written by anyone under 40. They’re classic doomsday expositions by cranky old people who think the whippersnappers are doing it all wrong. When have old people ever thought the next generation were NOT doing it all wrong? It’s such a cliché.

This particular manifesto was written by a woman named Susan whose picture at the top of her column assures me she’s well past whippersnapper age. Her unoriginal thesis is that “laptops, BlackBerrys and three billion mobile phones have perforated the distance between public and private, and we’re growing used to toting about portals of availability as if they were vital electronic organs.” She adds, “many young people happily swallow the notion that textual exchange is interaction.”

Here is what I have to say to Susan:

What do you think your grandparents thought when telephones began appearing in everyone’s home? How much time did you spend on one as a teenage girl? Personally, I spent hours on the phone gabbing with girlfriends at times when I could, alternatively, have met with them in person. It didn’t mean I stopped getting together with friends in person; I did that, as well. The phone did not steal time from personal interaction. It simply added a level of communication.

And “textual exchange” is not interaction, we are to believe. Snipes Susan: “Because text rarely communicates tone, we can’t tell the mood of the people reading our e-mails -- and it’s tone that gives words much of their meaning.” In the first place, that's kind of an odd thing for a professional writer to say. Are we to derive little meaning from what you write, then, Susan? And what about your great grandparents? How did they communicate with people who lived more than an easy carriage ride away from their house? They wrote letters. You know, Susan, letters: very much like texting, but on paper. It worked very well to keep in touch in between times when they could get together. Why has this become a bad thing simply because it can now be done electronically instead of with a quill pen?

Our op ed writer adds with a sneer, “…they believe, no doubt, that all their Facebook friends are real friends.” Oh, Susan, of course they don’t. Do you believe this generation, besides being sociopaths, are also stupid? They are very clear on the difference between a friend and an acquaintance and a social or business contact. I very much admire how cleverly they use this type of networking. I believe that laptops, BlackBerrys, mobile phones and our young people who embrace them like “vital electronic organs” do a far better job of keeping in touch than any generation before, and in a healthy way. From what I see, they make dates to get together in person just as frequently as any other generation.

Our columnist Susan also sorrowfully mentions the etiquette aspect of the use of laptops, cellphones and BlackBerrys as she perceives it. This is another matter and one I’ve addressed to some extent before. My basic opinion on this subject is simply that times change and social mores and conventions change with them. This is a process no carping older person has ever succeeded in halting. What I as a middle aged person might consider rude, my children do not. Society recreates its own behavioural dictates with each generation. It always has. You have only to peek into a Victorian etiquette book to remind yourself of this.

Tell me, Susan, do you curtsey when meeting someone on the street? You don't?? Shame on you. That’s extremely rude -- or it was once.

“A married lady, when calling on another married lady, leaves two of her husband's cards along with her own.” Do you do this, Susan? No? Strumpet!

“Never look over goods without any intention of buying them.” Don’t tell me you window shop, Susan!

“Use a handkerchief when necessary, but without glancing at it afterwards.” Um, yeah, okay. That one should stay.

And finally, I found this one in a Victorian etiquette book:

“Remember that, valuable as is the gift of speech, silence is often more valuable.” They were telling the young people to shut up then, too.

The young are creating the world of tomorrow. We can either embrace it with them and their laptops, BlackBerrys and cellphones, or we can sit around and whine about the “lost art of conversation”. Does anyone really want a conversation with someone whose main topic is the “good old days”? Did you, when it was your grandmother?

1 comment:

Punkin said...

I would love to see this article submitted to the same paper as the original article. How much more interesting the paper would be, and how much more balanced the opinions, if we saw more response articles! This is both well thought out and well written...share!