We look askance at those young adults in a swivet of tech-enabled multifriending, endlessly texting, tracking one another’s movements — always distracted from what they are doing by what they are not doing, always connecting to people they are not with rather than people right in front of them.
But being neither here nor there has real upsides. It’s less strenuous. And it can be more uplifting. Or, at least, safer, which has a lot going for it these days.
Face time — or what used to be known as spending time with friends and family — is exhausting. Maybe that’s why we’re all so quick to abandon it. 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.
The last time I had face time with my mother, it started out fine. “What a lovely blouse,” she said, plucking lovingly (as I chose to think) at my velvet sleeve. I smiled, pleased that she was noticing that I had made an effort. “Too bad it doesn’t go with your skirt.” Had we been on Skype, she would never have noticed my (stylishly intentional, I might add, just ask Marni) intriguing mix of textures. And I would have been spared another bout of regressive face time freak-out.
Face time means you can’t search for intriguing recipes while you are listening to a fresh round of news about a friend’s search for a soul mate. You can’t mute yourself out of an endless meeting, or listen to 10 people tangled up in planning while you vacuum the living room. You can’t get “cut off” — Whoops! Sorry! Tunnel! — in the middle of a tedious litany of tax problems your accountant has spotted.
My move away from face time started with my children; they are generally the ones who lead us into the future. It happened gradually. First, they left home. That did it for face time. Then I stopped getting return phone calls to voice mails. That did it for voice time, which I’d used to wean myself from face time. What happened?
I don’t text. Rather, I didn’t text. Because before too long, it wasn’t just the kids who were no longer listening to voice messages. No one was. Neither was I. A quick glance at the record of who had called was enough. This is mainly because people no longer leave voice messages while they are curled up on a sofa, in the quiet comfort of their living rooms, ready to chat. Instead, they catch up while they are outside, on the way somewhere, so that their message is drowned out by sirens, honking trucks and whistling winds. Why bother to listen?
Texting didn’t last long with me; it is difficult to switch to reading glasses while negotiating sidewalk traffic. Now I simply ignore my phone — though I’m filled with admiration at the adroitness of codgers who are able to text and shop, or text and drink, or text and talk.
Now I’m even finding voice time an ordeal. After having had a career of offices to show up in every morning, I went into shock when I woke one morning to realize I had nowhere to go — and no more colleagues to see. No more meetings, no more hallway conversations, no more business lunches. No more face time, when you get down to it. I was upset about this, for months. After all, 30 years of doing work that depended on that chance conversation, that closed-door pep talk when something was wrong, that shared play of delight when something was right — these are difficult work habits to shake.
But now I spend a great deal of time at a computer on my kitchen table. I’m in comfortable sweaters and sweatpants — when I’ve managed to ditch the pajamas. When I attend meetings, it is via earbud.
At this point, Skype seems impossibly intimate — the worst of both worlds. Imagine having to see the person you are talking to, without being with them. Except with one’s mother, why would anyone want to do that?
Apple is now promoting an amiable new feature called, laughably, FaceTime — which, it claims, is remarkable: “talk, smile and laugh with anyone on an iPad 2, iPhone 4,” etc. “Catch up, hang out, joke around and stay in touch with just a click. Sure, it’s great to hear a voice. But it’s even better to see the face that goes with it.”
I’m not so sure. 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.
Face time conversation is very different from faceless conversation. Silence, for example, is meaningless in the faceless realm. Whereas, in face time, 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.
Recently I was talking to my 23-year-old son, Theo, about my nostalgia for LP record albums. Theo thought a moment and conceded that he, too, was feeling nostalgic ...for dial-up modem. (He had nice memories of pleasant beeping sounds.) I suppose the point is that we all start to pine for the way things were, once they’ve been gone long enough for us to forget how annoying they used to be.
Which means we will soon enough feel nostalgia for face time. I’m not quite there yet. But I’m hoping someone is working on an app that replicates the sensation of snuffling a freshly bathed child. I remember how lovely it used to be, not so very long ago, before they grew out of face time, before I tired of face time, how delicious it was when both boys were little, to wrap my arms around them, listen to the day’s woes, rub noses and kiss goodnight. We clicked. And we didn’t even need “just a click.”