Years ago, when email first became the rage, I went to my mother and encouraged her to use it. It would cut down on phone bills, I pointed out.
"No," she said.
I sighed. Why not?
"Because I want to hear your voice. I want you to make the effort."
Needless to say, she never learned email. She never even got a computer. Of the billion electronic messages I have received in the last decade, not one, in the subject field, has ever read, "From Mother."
I bring this up in light of a recent Time magazine piece that claims Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 now send and receive around 88 text messages a day, as opposed to 17 phone calls in that same period of time.
Eighty-eight a day? Nearly 2,750 a month?
This should surprise no one. The preferred form of communication is now a fast type on a small device. Even email is considered archaic. And calling on phone? Well. Just try reaching a teenager these days. You can call a cell phone 10 straight times. You can leave 10 straight voice mails. No response.
But send a text to the same number asking, "Where R U?" and you'll get a reply: "Right here. Why?"
No one wants to talk anymore. I used to fret about cell phones and flying. I figured by the time we reached 2012, the inside of a plane would sound like the inside of high school cafeteria. When I read that they were developing cell phone use for international travel, I had visions of flying from Detroit to London in one long echo of "YOU'LL NEVER GUESS WHERE I'M CALLING FROM!"
I don't worry anymore. They can develop whatever they want. Walk onto an airplane now, and all you will see are people with their heads down, fingers flying. They don't make a peep. I can't scientifically prove this, but I believe airplanes are actually quieter than they were. No one talks to the person next to him. No one bothers to ask, "Business or pleasure?" People just put their heads down and text, text, text.
So what's wrong with this, you ask? Was it really so much better when teenagers sat on the phone all day? Aren't we being more efficient? Isn't one form of communication as good as the next?
And I will tell you why.
Forget the fact that we are raising a nation of short-cutters who think "143" is the same as "I love you" and LOL is a substitute for real laughter. (By the way, how do you know the person is really LOL? Maybe they are lying. Maybe they are stone-faced.)
Forget all that. Here is the real reason this trend of 88 texts vs. 17 phone calls -- and rising -- is so disturbing: We are losing contact. Losing human connections. And in doing so, we are losing something precious.
I sat with my mother all this past week, my mother who refused to learn how to email. She is in a wheelchair now, unable to speak due to a stroke. She half-smiles when I make a joke, and every now and then she tries to form a word when I ask her a question.
It's hard. I miss the old days. But you know what I miss the most?
Not her letters. Not a text. When someone is gone, honestly, will you ever mourn their texts? She was so right on insisting I call her all those years, we could tell by our tones how we really felt, what was OK and what was not. I am forever grateful for all those hours of shared laughs, of impassioned arguments and of a mother's most encouraging phrase, "Don't worry, everything will be all right."
Her voice was distinct, melodic, full of my earliest memories of life. It wasn't a series of electronic letters. When we spoke, only she could be on the other end of the line. When you get a text, in theory, anyone could be sending it. How would you even know?
I feel sorry for the 18- to 29-year-olds, and even sorrier for younger teens who almost exclusively text their parents and siblings. Too late, they are going to learn this simple truth of life: The only thing worse than missing a loved one's voice is to have barely heard it at all.