Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On beyond selfies, hangin' out in Facetime

HALLIE EPHRON: Remember the hours and hours we used to spend on the phone with our dearest friends? No longer. Technology has made the telephone obsolete.

One of my dearest friends and a frequent commenter on this blog is Patricia Kennedy. Like me, she's no technophobe, but we've been astonished by the rapid change in how our kids and grandkids will (or won't) communicate with us.

Phone: NO. Email: Used to be YES, now NO. Text messaging: Most definitely.

Pat and I agree: The pace of change has been, well, deafening.

PATRICIA KENNEDY: Unlike some in my age group, I love the challenge of new technology.  To be honest, I like to show off my mojo because I think it puts me into a younger and hipper class than my chronological years suggest.  Besides it allows all sorts of new ways to talk and chat.  And, as everyone who knows me will gleefully accept, my childhood nickname “Chatty Patty” is well-deserved.

HALLIE: But as fast as you and I have run to keep up with technology, it seems to be one step ahead of us.

So true. Recently I stayed with three ‘tween grandchildren for five days.  I was dismayed to find that my embrace of new communication-technology is now totally obsolete.  

No one under the age of twenty emails anymore!  I already knew – and lamented – that our youngsters are unable (or unwilling) to use a telephone for voice-to-voice communication.  That staple of teenage angst – hours on the telephone with a best friend – has vanished. The grandchildren – and their friends – seem to be totally terrified of being “on the phone.” Now it’s all staccato bursts in abbreviated, rapid texts.

What totally intrigues me is the FaceTime phenomenon. You don’t go over to a best friend’s house, or meet up at the playground, or hang out on the corner. You talk to each other on screens. 

I find that kind of weird talking to a grainy, distorted image, but the kids don’t.  It’s “normal” as thirteen-year-old Finn says. (“Normal,” his favorite adjective, describes everything he accepts into his world including food and people as well as technology.)

I listened to Reilly one afternoon as he did his homework with his friend VuPhong via FaceTime. They are both ten years old and love solving tough math problems together.  It was hard to avoid eavesdropping as Reilly wandered around the kitchen with his iPad Mini.

One conversation went like this:

Reilly:  “Look at page 2, the second question.”
VuPhong:  “It’s kind of fuzzy.  I can’t read it on the screen.”
Reilly:  “just look at your real paper…don’t try to read it on your Mini.”


Reilly:  “Show me your house. I always wondered what it looks like.”
VuPhong:  “I’m not supposed to take friends into my mother’s bedroom so we can’t go there.”

I’m not going to start chatting with my friends via FaceTime. For one thing, my screened-face looks even more dragged down at the corners than it does in real life.  And, I’m certainly not taking people on a tour of my bedroom anytime soon.  But if Reilly wants to chat that’s probably another story.

HALLIE: Yes, that camera angle, shooting up from under the chin. Deadly.

I pretty much only call my daughters except when I want a good long talk. And often their end of the conversation begins, "Is everything all right?" And we use Facetime to watch our grandbaby -- though she has yet to show much interest in watching us.

So Reds, are you getting with the program and texting? Skyping or Facetiming? Or are you dialing and dragging your younger relatives back into the technologically stodgy past?


  1. Hysterical ladies! Pat you do not look droopy, but I know exactly what you mean!

    And I looove the conversation on Facetime. And his mom's comment about not taking anyone in her bedroom...

    We try so hard to keep up, but I realize that just about the time I get a handle on something new, it's bound to be obsolete! John and I did find Facetime very useful when he was in South America with no cell phone bars. There was a shaky wifi signal in his hotel so we managed to connect.

    How do you get a hold of someone if they won't answer emails or calls? Our kids won't even listen to a voicemail...

    "You called?"
    "Did you listen to my message?"
    "Nope, just called you back."

  2. Although I have Skype on my computer, I am not a huge fan; I’d totally missed this FaceTime thing . . . I am not a “phone person” in the first place, so I’m not rushing to embrace either of those ways of communicating.
    I can manage the texting thing since both of my daughters will text me [and so I have a smart phone that does all this strange stuff I have no idea about and no idea of how to use]; neither are good at checking and responding to their email, but they both humor mom by chatting on the phone often enough to keep me happy.
    I’ve never been a “chat on the phone” person . . . but I must admit to really missing my old dial telephone . . . .

  3. We have a 'dial' phone in our front hall, and it's hysterical watching a twenty-something try to figure out how to make a call. It's also the ONLY phone that works when the power goes out, since it's hard wired into the wall/telephone line and has no power cord.

  4. I'm a texter, and I have an 18yo son. Yep, NO email and NO phone. It's considered an ancient protocol by today's standards. Social media feels empty to me, but is a necessary evil for authors when marketing. But seriously, major ick factor with social media. As for FaceTime? It's kinda cool, but the only time I use it is when Left Brain is traveling overseas and we want to save $$ when we chat. Now, I remember when my parents used to say, "in MY day, we didn't do things like that...". Seems there's a shift with every generation.

  5. Not a texter and I do not have Skype or FaceTime or whatever. No cordless phone, either. The home phones are the push button type,and hard wired. I always always have phone service. I always hated dial phones. I often had trouble keeping my finger in the little hole. But I will never go cordless!

    A friend told me she was at a train station and was approached by a twenty something young man who wanted to know the time. He said he left his watch home. There was a huge clock on the wall but it was the old fashioned type,and he said he never learned how to read that kind! He could only understand an electronic clock with the number read out!

  6. I hate the phone, I really do. And I will do anything I can not to talk on it. (Difficult, because I am a reporter.) And funny, because I used to LOVE the phone. But you know, I think it just takes too long, and some people will not stop talking.. I am not much of a chatter. :-) (Although I will ALWAYS talk to you guys, and darling Pat.)

    Listening to voice mail, sigh. Horrible.

    YOu know what's worse than listening to once mail?Listening to the Looooong outgoing message! "Hi, this is Sally and Bob, we can't come to the phone, so.."


    I am crazy for email, but some days my hands actually hurt from typing. And I have to admit, messaging is very very efficient.

  7. DebRo--he couldn't read the clock??? AH......that is terrible! Frightening!

  8. Great stuff. I text under duress but I HATE typing on my phone with my fat fingers. I don't know how the kids do it with their thumbs.

    My sons are in their twenties. I skyped with one when he was on study abroad in Morocco a few years ago and it was great to be able to see him. My older son lives in the DC area and is sweet enough to pick up the phone (our cells on are on a shared family plan, so it's free) and call me at least once a week. And when my younger son is working in Puerto Rico, which he has been much of the last two years and is going back in December, we talk on the phone, too. But neither uses email much unless they send me a travel itinerary.

    I never even heard of Facetime. Is it like Skype on the phone? Sheesh.

  9. I have to admit, I really do like texting. It just seems more efficient to me.

    Never been one for talking on the phone. I'd much rather get together and have coffee.

    All that said, I am not sure how I would live without e-mail. I use it at work, with friends, for the blog, etc. And now, I hear I am old-fashioned. ;)

    Social media I am not sure about yet. I have been avoiding Facebook, but will probably have to jump in for the sake of the blog soon. Been Tweeting for about 6 months and find that to be ok.

    Maybe this is a sign that I am better at communication in short messages? That is NOT good news for my reviews (which tend to run 500 words).

  10. My daughter introduced me to Facetime. It's on the iPhone... and it's free iPhone to iPhone communication with video. I think. It's pretty much like Skype. Someone correct me if I've got this garbled. I needed "lessons" to both find it on my iPhone and use it. And when it works it feels like magic. To me.

  11. I am not a texter. I'm not much of a phone person either. Half the time my cell is out of power and the other I've forgotten to bring it with me. I have minutes rolled over from 2002.

    Hubby Skypes with the grandkids but I always feel kind of stupid, standing there, grinning at a screen so I usually just breeze in and out.

    I used to like Instant messaging - how retro is that? You could be doing three thing at once.

    Hallie, I've still got an old desk phone - mine's new there..push buttons. Those things were made to last - and you're right it's the only that works when the power goes out.

  12. I had a conversation recently about leaving a trail, if you are doing something illicit. Technology leaves a clear trail. Texts, email--big trail. (See David Petraeus.) Phone calls leave something of a trail--unless it's recorded, only the call itself and length.

    Easiest to destroy? A letter. Burn it and it's gone. Ironic. It used to be follow the paper trail. Now, the safest thing may be the paper trail.

  13. So right about the chin angle on Facetime. I often FT with my long-time live-out partner at bedtime (similar to a recent episode of Castle)and he just laughs when I tuck the sheets up around my neck, or show only the top half of my face.

    Easy for him; he has a full beard, Santa-style.

    And as for clocks, I'm sad to observe my mother, at 91, recently told me (on the phone) that she didn't know what time it was, because there was no clock in her room. I realised that meant she no longer recognised the large, easy-to-read digital clock on her desk as a clock.

  14. Oh Susan D... that is so sad about your mom.

    Ramona: And I like a letter better for plotting because you can threaten to burn it or shred it and it's gone-gone. It's something you can chase someone down for. It can be the macguffin while the e-thing is just e-phemeral and undestructible.

  15. I come at this from the point of view of a novelist, a lawyer, and an old fuddy duddy.

    I don't have a smart phone and don't want one, and I just got rid of the fax (thank heaven-- one less source of "incoming," and yes, I do think of incoming mail, messages, etc. as a kind of enemy fire.) When I'm in the car, or the grocery store, or out walking the dog, I want to be able to see where I'm going, chat with people I pass, or even talk to the dog (he likes that).

    As a lawyer, I don't like to put things in writing unless I can weigh their import. If you make certain commitments, you can be held to them. Fast, short responses could commit you to something you don't want to be held to.

    And while I realize (from crime shows on TV) that you can be tracked via your cell phone in case you are kidnapped, the odds against that are pretty high, and I prefer NOT to have someone know where I browse, walk, or grab a cup of coffee. There is no need to reach me at the public library if I am doing some research. I go there to get AWAY from "incoming."

    And as a writer, I like to hear the tone in a person's voice. And I do NOT want a two way camera in my computer or phone, because I don't want the attorney for the other side to see if I am making monkey gestures when I know he is lying and/or posturing. The phone is still the fastest way to communicate, get feedback, and not have to put on make up.

    I write in sweatpants in winter and shorts and a t-shirt in summer. I have a pile of research materials and files all around me (I got one of those FB messages this morning that said, "The zombies are attacking. You grab the first object to your left to fight back. What is it?" For me, it was a stack of books and papers.)

    I don't want someone who is talking with me to know I have dirty dishes on the table in front of me. I don't want to have to clean them up in order to make a call. But if I want to make plans, I want to be able to hear the other person's alternative suggestions, not wait for a brusque one-word response.

    Luckily, I don't have kids. But while I like the phone, I refuse to use one that invades my privacy. Indeed, since the advent of caller ID, I answer the phone selectively anyway.

    And unlike the many dog walkers I see who are chatting away on their phones, I know what my dog looks like, know when other dogs are approaching, and don't usually step into holes. They can do that if they want to. I get to see the leaves bud out and later turn colors.

  16. I finally learn to work the internet with the computer, everyone switches to "smart" phones. Forgetaboutit. It's not that I'm too dumb, it's that I don't need a mobile device if I'm not mobile -- I'm in my chair, on the couch, on in bed 22-23 hours of the day. You can text me, but I hate that little beepy sound. Rather you sent me an email.

  17. You all have me laughing! A dial phone? Really? Although we do have one hard-wired phone in our house, upstairs in our bathroom, for emergencies.

    I love love love my smartphone, and I hate voicemail. Usually I just call people back but then at some point I have to clear the messages.

    My daughter texts. If I want to have a phone conversation, I usually have to text her and say, "Can you talk?" She does email, thank goodness, so we often chat back and forth during the day when we're both working. Or Facebook Message. I don't mind texting for the efficiency and I'm not bad with my thumbs, but I'm a touch typist so if it's more than a few words, it's so much easier to email.

    My hubby and I Skype every night when I'm in the UK. We set up a schedule. Sometimes we use the cameras, sometimes not, depending on how strong the internet signal is. But yes, the chin thing is very unflattering.. Have any of you done Skype chats for libraries? That's a weird thing!

    I loved the one where I got all set up(meaning make-up, professional lighting, laptop up on a big stack of books so I wouldn't be looking down into the camera, etc.) and the librarian called the wrong Skype number, then told all the assembled patrons in her library that I hadn't bothered to show up for the call...

  18. I parent by text message. (Background: I'm 57, my son is 16.)

    All those difficult discussions that parents have to have with kids? Easy peasy in text. Nothing's off limits.

    Calls are for emergencies. (Or if I'm running late to pick him up from work...there's no texting and driving for us, so if he texts and I don't reply, he calls.)

    The biggest problem we have is that my mom doesn't like to text and he doesn't like to talk on the phone, so they don't communicate as much as she would like.

    I want to know what parenting will be like for him and what new things technology will bring to the experience.

  19. I'm enjoying all of your comments and it seems as if we're all feeling "Oh, my goodness I am so far behind," but I'm definitely not going to stop learning. Fortunately I have a great (YOUNG) person who works with me who shows me new stuff every day. And she confessed yesterday that she had to use an old-fashioned typewriter last week and "freaked out." "How do you correct mistakes? How do you format the page?" Ha! I got to teach the young dog how to do a few tricks.

  20. Ellen! I know I've told you this before, but you've got to be a character in your 'next' novel. The attorney who eschews technology, snares adversaries in their offhand texts...

  21. Agreed, Jack Getze - seems like I'm always about two waves behind, too.

    Debs, I think I had to deal with that same librarian. I'm not a huge fan of skyping in place to showing up, though it does expand one's reach.

    Char (waving!) - Really? NOTHING'S off limits? Though you have to admit, you do lose a bit of the nuance.

  22. Pat, we should collaborate on a book: Old Tricks for Young Dogs. How to read an analogue clock, how to DIAL a phone, how to use a typewriter, how to make a milkshake (not a smoothie), care and feeding of your double boiler...

  23. Another comment that I'd like to make. My parents were both deaf (completely) so telephones were not an option for them. I was living in Massachusetts and they were in Missouri so when the TTY's for the deaf came on the market our ability to stay in constant touch expanded enormously. I remember my mother "calling" me one day to check on my poison ivy rash -- using the TTY. She had never been able to make such simple calls before the TTY, and it made an enormous difference in our lives. Her very last words to me were via the TTY: "Patty, you are so wounderful." (She was a terrible speller as many deaf are. But it didn't matter...I will always remember being told about my wounderful-ness every time I think of her.

  24. At 22 years old I never thought I would utter the words, "Can you teach me how to use the typewriter?" It happened. I just started a new job and one of my tasks is to make labels. With the type of labels they have and the printer they have the only way to go about making them is with the typewriter. I went through about 15 labels of "mess ups" before I was told there was a way to fix mistakes. What is this "tape" thing? It's safe to say using the typewriter is one of the biggest struggles at my new job!

    Am I "old" for my age?? I text, use almost every form of social media out there, and am never seen without my iPhone in hand -- however, I still make phone calls! When I have a long story to tell my best friend, I'm not about to type for 20 minutes when I could call her and explain the story in 10.

    FaceTime? Perfect for overseas. I have many friends that live abroad and it is the perfect way to catch up with them.

    I'm now watching children younger than me and realizing that they are born and given a cell phone or an iPad to play with. Is this the "toy" you want to be giving your child? It's the "play with Mommy's phone while she makes dinner" solution. It's now second nature for children to text and FaceTime. They need to be taught about face to face interaction. We can't let that go.

  25. Ramona and all other Reds. Don't you think it is interesting how many crimes are being solved today because of smart phones, GPS systems, etc. tracking our every move! How are our criminals ever going to get away with anything in the future? How are you mystery writers going to be able to cover up the tracks? Sounds like a really hard problem for plotting!

  26. Deb, the hardwired phone is in the bathroom? Makes me laugh about something that happened about 30 years ago. One of my friends, a judge, called me at 11:00 p.m. (she knew I'd be up), to tell me that her husband had latched the outside of their bathroom door while she was inside (that was to keep their toddler twins out of the bathroom during the night-- he hadn't realized she was in there). They only had one phone line, so she asked me to phone him and she wouldn't answer, and then I could tell him to let her out.

    Now I'm on a mystery writers' blog, and I'm seeing all kinds of possibilities in that incident, aside from how funny it was at the time.

  27. What a great topic today! I've missed you guys, having been out of the country for the last couple of weeks, which also means I have a new appreciation for electronic forms of communication.

    We had almost nil Internet/email access, and I really struggled with keeping in touch with our kids and my mom. In the two weeks we were gone I only managed to get one email and one Facebook message out. On the other hand, the friends we were with were using their iPhones and an iPad, and they had three times the success getting in touch with their kids in California. It really didn't matter, in the end, since we were not ill on the trip, but it did give me pause.

    My youngest daughter's husband of less than two years was in Afghanistan for nine months, over their first anniversary, and all the holidays. On Christmas morning she Skyped with him while we opened presents; he got "taken" all over the house. For as long as they could stay connected he was able to be there with us, then, and again later at our dinnertime (the middle of the night for him). It was a miracle, and helped take away some of the sting of missing the holiday together.

    My mother, at age 83, recently got an iPhone so she can Facetime with my sister and with her little grandson in Mississippi. Mother loves being able to see the great-grandkid growing up, and when he sees her in person he isn't shy with her. She even uses Facebook now, and texts some.

    My middle daughter is 29 and did not learn to read an analog clock until she was in high school and I forced her to. Now kids are not even learning cursive writing, which makes me wonder how they'll sign anything. Topic for another blog, maybe.

  28. Hey, y'all just kept me from a mistake in the WIP -- thanks! (Of course, it won't be pubbed until March 2015, and tech will have changed yet again....)

  29. Karen (aside from envying your trip and waiting for you to post the photos), re kids not learning cursive-- not so much a problem of how will they sign anything (probably e-sign or with an X), but will they be able to read a letter or birthday card from someone who CAN write cursive? When they find your parents' old photos, with notes written on the back, will they have to hire a translator?

  30. Hey I want Ellen as a character in my book!

    God idea on the book Hallie. How many cowriters can you use???

  31. Hey I want Ellen as a character in my book!

    God idea on the book Hallie. How many cowriters can you use???

  32. I never did text anyone until the director at the non-profit where I work started. She has children (19 and mid-twenties) so it was the mode of communication she was used to. I now have an iPhone and love it, think I will get rid of my PC at home and switch to an iPad at some point. I did love sending emails, but now sending a text is my default. I still like to talk to people, on the phone and in person, don't think I will ever like Facetime, but time will tell. Does anyone write letters or send cards, I do miss that sometimes, going to my mailbox and actually finding mail.

  33. Good point, Ellen!

    My husband and I keep having this conversation, and he keeps saying cursive is an unnecessary skill. He would say that--his handwriting is atrocious.

  34. Vickie down the road from me wrote:
    "Does anyone write letters or send cards, I do miss that sometimes, going to my mailbox and actually finding mail."

    I do, I do! Best use of my paintings and pictures is to make note cards on Snapfish for thank yous and other occasions, and to tuck inside prezzies. I know, very retro -- and almost as much fun to send as to receive!

  35. I still send cards all the time, birthday cards and Get Well or Thinking of You cards. The recipients LOVE them, and I enjoy sending them. If I can't find one with a sentiment I like, I use blank cards (with pretty pictures or humorous pictures) and write my own message to go with them.

    I've noticed that the same people who never check their answering machines or voice mail are the same ones who never read their email. I'm not sure if any of these people text. I have a Stupid Phone, and am not exactly sure how to text on it, so I don't text. I don't give out my cell phone number to ANYONE except family and VERY close friends, and they all know that I never turn the phone on except to call them or when we have prearranged for one of them to call ME on my cell phone. (And I use it for long distance calls, but all the people I'd call long distance are the only people who have that number anyway.)

  36. Pat Kennedy, the invention of the cell phone threw a real monkey wrench into writing mysteries. You have to write the phone out of the scene, and that takes creativity.

    This is a little bit of an aside, but phone calls are not action. I complain about this a lot. I seem to write it a lot. I have joked it's going to be on my headstone.

  37. My protagonist's phone ran out of charge. My other protag was out running in shorts without pockets and didn't have her phone. There are ways, Pat!

    On the other hand, I loved writing an 88-year old woman recently who pulled out her iPhone to take the protag's number, and talked about how she loved texting with her great-grandchild, using "all those cute abbreviations like loll." So I got to break up a stereotype of the old lady who doesn't use tech anything. Which, judging from these comments, is a fast-disappearing stereotype!

  38. Facetime makes me look about 120 years old. I have joined the telephone haters but love to talk to my Auntie-Mom. We settle for having a recent photo display on our cells as we talk. I also now hate email but love texting. I like FB, because you can private IM singly or with a group, or you can communicate with whoever checks out your posts—sometimes just a few people per post and sometimes tons more. It's a different kind of community.

  39. Ah, communicating! I am something of a loner -- but I use texting (I am very slow and bad, and do not have a "smart" phone) to keep in touch with young people.

    My mother and I now only exchange hand-written letters, and we have never had a better relationship! In each note she writes, she thanks me for my letter.

    I Skype with my DC therapist (moved from DC to MA 16 months ago).

    My cell phone is generally in another room, and I rarely check it.

    I am addicted to facebook.

    I am contradictory!!

  40. Pat, I loved your comment about how technology allowed you to stay in touch with your far away, deaf parents. (My beloved grandparents, btw, everyone.)

    When I moved away from Kansas City, I used to drive to the airport every week to use the TTY there, so I could “talk” to my grandfather. I often think about how he would have adored email and texting, because it would have enabled us communicate even better than the TTY. Technology is a gift.

  41. It's not writing and receiving email from friends that I hate--it's the sorting through the garbage mail to find the important stuff or notes from friends.

  42. Hallie (waving back!): Nope, nothing's off limits. Even discussions about sex and drugs. He can handle them so much better in text (even if he's in the next room) than face-to-face.

    And in some cases, starting a conversation in text leads to a real conversation (although it usually takes place in the car, where he doesn't have to look at me and I can't look at him).

    And when he types "Mom." in reply, I hear the exasperation in the tone :-)

  43. I received a FB share this morning that said, "I wish heaven had a phone so I could hear your voice again." I saved some of my mom's messages when she was in her declining years, and after she died, I had them transferred to a CD, and sent copies to my sisters. I wish I could have done that with my grandmother's voice (she died in 1971) or that my Dad had left messages.

    I suspect that those who lost loved ones on 9/11 treasure those last voice mails a lot more than they would a text.