Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Communicating, Now and Then. . .

It's not just because I've (temporarily, I hope) run out of fuel for writing new posts, but also because I've been looking back, as I enter this blog's tenth (yes! I know!) year, at earlier posts to track the differences and similarities between Then and Now.  When I began blogging in July 2007, I had been teaching at my university for a few years, having completed my dissertation two years earlier, and my reason for beginning Materfamilias Writes was to wrest some space for thinking and writing about the quotidian domestic life that academe tends to ignore, if not try to banish all signs of. . . .

I've started scrolling through those early posts; they set a direction that I'm still roughly following nine-and-counting years later, even through recent changes to my everyday life such as becoming a grandmother, retiring, and, now, moving to the city. And I've come across a few whose topic I think is still worth discussing, almost a decade later, especially now that my audience is a bit larger. If you don't mind, I'm going to send you back in time to read one such post today.

The topic is twofold: the post is partly about changing communication technology, but particularly as that concerns the way parents keep in touch with their adult children, with the added fillip of interest being introduced in the notion of "disturbing the kids."  I'd forgotten having written this, not surprisingly, and I realised that posting it now would be the push I needed to write about something I've been thinking about ever since I got back from Rome this past February. While there, trying to communicate with my husband by text, email, voicemail, and occasionally a live phone chat,  I started thinking about how technology has brought us so much closer in so many ways than when I traveled in my late teens (I once telegraphed my parents that I'd missed my flight home from London to Vancouver -- my English relatives had a phone, but no one even considered making a transAtlantic phone call, not in our budget in '71).

And yet, I thought, newly returned from Rome last February, it can take a while to get responses to those texts and emails and voicemails. Pater was pretty good at working around the nine-hour time difference, but once upon a time I could have woken him up if I really needed to talk. Now, he usually leaves his cellphone in the other room, sound turned off.  And the kids? Hmmmmm. So much harder to reach out and touch someone these days. . . .Or at least, there's considerable vetting involved in that connection. Much tougher to "disturb the kids." To understand that phrase in this context, you'll have to go back and read my earlier post. I'll be waiting to hear what you think about it, and then next post, I'm going to share some examples of the way technology does and doesn't expedite connection in our family along with some worries I have about the screens we all put up in the communication stream. . .

Until then, the mic is now yours. I'm listening. . .


33 comments:

  1. This topic has been on my mind lately, because the generational differences in communication preferences loom large in my four-generation family. Our parents (80s and 90s) would LOVE to get actual snail mail, though they both also email. I prefer email -- texting doesn't work as well for my long-winded writing -- and have daily email exchanges with my mom and a couple of friends. My adult offspring prefer texting and communicate almost exclusively with me that way. And my grandchildren are into SnapChat! I'm happy to receive any type of communication from them, of course, but I also love rereading the old letters I wrote home from college and as a young mother that my mother saved and gave me when I was old enough to appreciate them. Tricia

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    1. We're down to three generations now, and the youngest generation are not yet online, but you draw a very recognizable picture of the landscape we find ourselves in. It's amazing, isn't it, how quickly the transformation happened?.. Aren't those old letters precious now?,

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  2. This post, as well as the older one, come at an interesting time for me. One of my self-assigned tasks this summer is to transcribe the letters my g-grandmother wrote when she was an actress touring Asia (Japan to India and all points in between) in 1919-20. The paper is getting brittle and the ink is fading so it was now or perhaps never. Her constant concern was that the letters she was writing and receiving would get lost. There seems to be an underlying fear that she would be forgotten, although this was certainly balanced by excitement about the experiences she was sharing in her letters. Months would go by without a letter and then she would receive several -- it all depended on when the mail boats arrived and where they sailed. We obviously have many more options now that provide a freedom she did not have. Yet it makes me a bit sad that most of our communication today will leave no record of our changing thoughts and relationships (unless you are a talented blogger). That said, I'm off to text younger son about his birthday dinner!

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    1. Lynn L, this is so interesting :-)!
      And you are so right about leaving no record now.
      Dottoressa

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    2. What a wonderful task! A responsibility and a privilege. Are you scanning the letters as well so that there's a digital record of the originals? Of course, all our digital records are so dependent on the equipment required to process them...like you, I couldn't give up the convenience of our digital world, but I miss some of the reassuring tangible elements of older communications.

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    3. I had not even thought of scanning. It won't work for some (black ink on both sides of thin paper or the ones in pencil written during a typhoon), but it would for most. I might even help me decipher some of the hard to read words. Thank you!

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  3. Fascinating topic Frances, particularly with the ten year gap. Looking back you wonder how we ever managed in the days of just the phone. Communicating now with our children is very spontaneous. Often one of us sees something that is amusing and just quickly texts or sends a picture. Not always demanding a reply. I agree if you actually need an answer straight away that's another matter. One son has his settings in such a way that he is unavailable from 10pm until 7 am. Clearly not expecting a crisis at night! The other two are often set on silent so only reply when they choose to look at the phone. If you wish to FaceTime and they don't wish to reply you just get unavailable. I'm in the habit of sending outrageous texts just to get their attention. Something like I've got £10000 to give away what account shall I send it to! It's a strange world now, not sure what my parents would have made of it. B X

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    1. This is exactly what I was reckoning with when I was in Rome on my own:how to get past all the filters that are set up to screen me out, especially during the inconvenient hours. I'm chuckling at your recourse to outrageous texts...

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  4. I communicate with my parents,when I'm away, via mobile phone calls (in my youth I wrote letters,too),respecting their schedule as much as possible (we have three apartments in the same house so I actually talk with them:-):-),when I'm at home)
    Texting is a nice way of communication,you get an answer-and than you could or couldn't even get a call,with my son or with my friends
    But,I usually first call and than text :-)
    Dottoressa

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    1. Your parents are very lucky to have you so close by.
      Is your son usually quite prompt about replying to your texts? Mine used to be much better but as their lives have got busier with families and work, it can take a while....

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    2. Well,he is good if he has enough time :-)
      D

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  5. I Skype my mother every day when I am away from home. A few years ago, I used to write lengthy e-mails to Mum and Dad. Dad would print them out and my parents would share them over breakfast. Mum still has letters that I wrote from Québec 40+ years ago. I've always shared experiences by writing. Some apartments that I have rented in Paris have had free calling to Canada. I'm not a cell phone user as I don't like to give people unlimited access to me. I know that's weird but if they call my home voice mail or e-mail me, I'll always get back to them. Some of my friends read my blog but I don't write as often these days because I don't always have ready topics either.

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    1. What a lovely image, a memory you must treasure of your dad printing out (on an old dot-matrix printer?) your email, reading it to your mom. My parents had similarly saved letters I wrote them from England, summers of '67 and '71....i completely understand why you prefer to avoid having a cell, and if you can manage as well as you do to stay connected without one, Brava!

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  6. So funny! I just called Daughter who was watching filming of Storybrooke in Steveston. I haven't seen her in a couple of weeks. "Can I call you back, Mum, I'm busy."
    Daughter works shifts so I only call on days off. Communication is difficult.

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    1. Too funny indeed and exactly what I'm talking about! I suspect mine wouldn't even have picked up in those circumstances..

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  7. This reminds me of the mid-1970s to late-70s when as a young couple in our twenties, my husband was assigned by headquarters in Washington, DC to move to the regional office in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was to work in the Pacific region, covering Asia, Australia and everywhere in between including the Marshall Islands, Samoa, and Guam. This was before satellite communications and the Today show had to be taped and flown to Hawaii to be broadcast the next day -so really it was the Yesterday show for us! The NY Times arrived a week later. And long distance phones were through under ocean cables with a slight delay in transmission -so conversations were rather awkward, not to mention expensive. Often times, my husband would be gone for as long as nine weeks, working in multiple countries. Since the office did not pay for phone calls home, it was at our own expense and my frugal husband would call maybe once or twice in those nine weeks! We had to rely on handwritten letters and believe me, the mail service in some countries was very slow, so sometimes a letter to him would not arrive until he had already left the country it was mailed to. Some letters literally took weeks to arrive. As a first time mother with a newborn baby, it was a challenge. As much as I love a handwritten letter, I have to admit that email and text are so much more efficient. And the efficiency of international cell phone calls is amazing. Although we were cutoff from immediate news from the rest of the world, in some ways it was an idyllic life in the middle of the Pacific.

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    1. That must have been such a challenge, especially until you developed a network of friends. We only moved a two-day drive from home, and I still found it tough trying to manage with a meagre long-distance budget. And my husband's fieldwork would take him to areas with no communication possibilities except the occasional radio telephone, those awkward echoes and the invisible presence of other listeners. So I'm with you in not wishing for the good old days, but still . . .

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  8. Oh, and regarding communicating with adult children, I find that text is the only way to get an immediate response. The rest of the news that I get about their comings and goings is from FB.

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    1. I find text is best as well... Mine aren't doing much on FB these days...

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  9. I've got a cell phone but only use it for special occasions (like travelling). In everyday life, if I am not at home people can leave a message on the answering machine and I get back to them. On the other hand, I always feel a bit hesitant about ringing somebody on the cell phone because I do not know if I am interrupting some work or conversation, so the idea about "disturbing" somebody works exactly the other way round with me. In general I prefer SMS or email, exactly because the recipient can choose the moment when to read and to answer. In my opinion, the biggest improvement of communication technology is email instead of snail mail for instant trans-continental contact. I remember the times when letters between Europe and Latin America used to take several weeks. With some correspondents we numbered our letters in order to keep track if any had got lost on the way...

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    1. The trend here seems to be for fewer and fewer people to have a landline. I'm curious to know if this is beginning to happen where you are, and if so, will that perhaps change your patterns. . .
      Such an interesting bit of communications history you cite -- I suppose the numbering would help if the chronology got confused but one letter being routed more efficiently than another. Such a huge gap technology has closed. . . .

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  10. This is a pertinent topic. Our house is crammed with phones, laptops etc, all bleeping and hooting the live-long day. After the hoo-haa of Brexit, I decided to retreat from all the noise and stopped FB for two weeks. Even left my phone at home. It was curiously freeing. I am attempting to be more reasonable in usage now. Communicating with children: when my son was living in Seoul, using a Korean messaging service was invaluable. And when he was in hospital with a bad break, it literally saved my sanity. We could message, send videos, send audio messages...modern technology is a double-edged sword. I phone my mum, message and text my children, FB message friends and use Skye as a last resort as I don't care for it. But - confession - I have come to dread the sound of a ringing phone in the house. It rarely brings good news, I find. Blogging, however, I love. A sense of immediate intimacy.

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    1. I can relate to all of this, Annie, although I will admit that I haven't yet given myself a serious, sustained break from being connected.
      Yes, the sound of the ringing phone -- this is part of what I want to talk more about, because it's been silenced, in my experience. We have the only landlines in the family, and ours will be gone soon as well . . .

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  11. My adult children and the older grandchildren are all hooked up to smart phones. Texting is the best way to get hold of the g-daughters, and sometimes their parents, but there is still a landline in their home and they use it. My younger son and his wife are smart phone only people and, although they are good at keeping in touch by cell and text, I sometimes wish I could call a landline to their home, and be surprised by a little grand-daughter picking up the phone and having a spontaneous, unplanned conversation about what is going on in her life before I get the parent I had originally called. This still happens with the older girls when they are at home and I miss it. Everyone with their own smartphone feels very separate. I agree with Nohatnogloves about the immediate intimacy of blogging. Betty

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    1. My daughter removed her landline for economic reasons. She has an unlimited plan for her smartphone, the grandkids just have pay as you go. It means I can't make that call and just chat with them anymore. With a gap in time zones, it's a challenge to catch them when she has her phone free and they're around. When I've been visiting it's shocking to see the constant communication she has coming in.

      When our lives are less busy, it's easy to forget theirs are non stop. Pre answering machines, we never realized how difficult it was for our parents to reach us. They may not respond to some texts but at least I know if it's urgent they can and will act upon it.

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    2. jbettyb and Julie, you're at (or beyond) the stage I'm noticing brings a big change, with the landlines gone, and the grandchildren in a very different communications regime than we expected. With one g'daughter living in Rome, I'm so grateful for modern technology -- what would I do without FaceTime, without spontaneous text conversations, without the delightful mini videos attached to an email? But I would have liked to be able to chat with the local g'kids one on one, when the impulse hits either one of us, and that isn't easily accommodated -- your sentence, betty, about wishing you could be surprised by a little granddaughter picking up the phone. . . . Yes! I've shared that wish!
      and Julie, your last paragraph. . . their lives are so very busy right now -- we longed for easier communications at times, and I see them needing to filter out the constant demand for response. . .
      Thanks to both of you for extending the conversation -- I'm hoping to pick up these points and post again on the topic soon.

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    3. jbettyb and Julie, you're at (or beyond) the stage I'm noticing brings a big change, with the landlines gone, and the grandchildren in a very different communications regime than we expected. With one g'daughter living in Rome, I'm so grateful for modern technology -- what would I do without FaceTime, without spontaneous text conversations, without the delightful mini videos attached to an email? But I would have liked to be able to chat with the local g'kids one on one, when the impulse hits either one of us, and that isn't easily accommodated -- your sentence, betty, about wishing you could be surprised by a little granddaughter picking up the phone. . . . Yes! I've shared that wish!
      and Julie, your last paragraph. . . their lives are so very busy right now -- we longed for easier communications at times, and I see them needing to filter out the constant demand for response. . .
      Thanks to both of you for extending the conversation -- I'm hoping to pick up these points and post again on the topic soon.

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  12. At first I thought texting would help with quick replies from my daughter, but even that has dwindled. She is an introvert in a very demanding job, so feels overwhelmed often with too much stimulus. This summer I haven't heard much from her. We live 1600 miles apart. We are close and I understand, but wish I would hear from her more often. I have been thinking, maybe I should start writing letters and see if that would work. She isn't on FB much, but it is good to see when she is. I am going to visit in September. Thank you for your post. It helps to know that it is the same for others too. Once I told her she didn't need to respond to each of my texts.....wishing I hadn't said that now....!

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    1. Oh, I can really relate to this. We have four grown kids, each with families and partners and busy work lives, and so overall we're hearing from someone or other a few times a week. If I were looking at the pattern of just one of them . . . . I've thought about writing letters as well and occasionally have sent cards or letters to my granddaughters. Perhaps it's time for a resolution. . . I wonder if you'll get a chance to chat about this with your daughter in your September visit, or if it will seem better just to let things be. I know I have to be very careful not to seem disappointed or, well, parental, but hey, moms have feelings too, right? ;-)

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  13. I think it's just a question of being delighted with whatever one gets !

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    1. Definitely something to this...I do have some questions on the practical side of things, but overall, yes! Delight is a good approach, so much better when it happens regularly ;-)

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  14. Interesting topic. I just got back from a week at my mother's cottage with her - the only technology was a rotary dial phone! no TV, no internet and I had to leave my work supplied cell phone behind when I retired. Then I lost one knitting needle and couldn't knit. After a couple of rather stressed days I did settle down and relax into the situation and in the end it was a good break.

    I read quite a bit of fiction for the first time in years, and found it interesting how the plots would have changed if there were cell phones and texting at today's level. Technology is changing the human experience rapidly. There were even differences in situations in books written only a few years ago.

    I too have decided to get smart phone and give up my land line. It may be a bit of a nuisance to only have one phone which will probably be downstairs ringing when I'm upstairs, unless I have it in my hand constantly as the younger generation seem to do (kidding, this won't happen!). I don't have children or a spouse but my friends text back and forth quite often, so I need a cell phone to stay connected. At least with text you don't have to answer immediately or mess around getting into voice mail.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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