I witness the generation gap widening at home everyday, regardless of my relentless efforts to get my teenagers to communicate. They still mostly pick up the phone when I call (because that was the agreement we made years ago when I said I would pay the bill) but they are short now - often missing the call altogether, only to shoot me a short text of their whereabouts and time of arrival. They are part of a new generation of communicators and even though I have full texting capability, I cannot keep up with their lightning speed on their keyboard. And for me, when we text, there is always more that I want to know, to hear from them. I suppose this is precisely why they text.
In part, I grew up with the phone as my lifeline. I have vivid memories of the stretched out curly cord, wrapped around the dining room entrance to have some privacy in my teen years. I remember waiting by the phone for it to ring. I remember the sadness of not getting the call, the frustration of busy signals, the relief of finally hearing my friend or boyfriend’s voice on the other end.
I also remember the courage I had to mount sometimes to make a call to a new friend in the making, or the boy who didn’t call me first. If you didn’t know it already, those days are gone. My teens don’t use any airtime minutes with peers. In the midst of their angst or frustration of texting that stops cold, or responses that don’t make sense, I urge them call instead. They look at me like I am insane. This is the new normal of communicating. Even though no rules were ever written down, somewhere, silently, this new generation sees talking as overstepping a boundary.
How close you have to be to someone to call is not always clear, but the willingness to risk overstepping that invisible boundary line is weakening.
In my mind, this is one serious drawback to our technological advances. As we become comfortable using only a few characters to express an immediate need, we adapt by saying less about everything. When I pressed my 15, almost 16-year-old, daughter about how talking to someone helps make friendships, she said, “it is not friendly to disrespect someone’s boundaries.” Less and less we practice the challenging skills of conversing, of learning to say what we think, express who we are, and the even more challenging skills of listening to what is not said, to what lives behind the words.
In her defense, she told me, getting to know people happens face-to-face, which without a doubt are the moments when we have the most true and real interactions. We get to know who is in front of us with all our senses and our brain has a plethora of information to set down in generating memories. This is why what we remember most, especially as we age, happens in real time 3D. In parenting my teens, this is absolutely true, and it happens mostly in that listening space. The more I want to know and ask questions, what they call interrogating, the less they say. But like all relationships, when you can hold open the space to hear someone, remarkable things are said.
I have been rightly accused by my friends, my husband, and my kids at lacking in the skill of holding empty space for listening. My gifts of keen intuition and understanding other peoples’ feelings and thoughts before they articulate them ends up feeling disrespectful, as though I know more of what they think than they do. Worse still, it doesn’t enrich our connection because at its best and most meaningful, communicating in whatever format, aspires to show us more about ourselves. People come to those understandings at different paces, and rushing to tell someone else what they need to discover for themselves doesn’t work. I wish I could learn that lesson for real one day.
Here is the other rub, that silences relationships prematurely: just because you get something when it comes to communicating doesn’t mean you can do it. That is perhaps the most significant challenge of human relationships. Intimate partners wrongly presume that just because you say it and the other person seems to get it in that moment, that the life situation will change, as in for always. Habits, especially our most annoying ones, die hard. It takes perpetual commitment and vigilance to shift, even just by 5% consistently. This is one of the most common reasons that relationships fail.
We limit our communications to fewer characters, while resisting pushing the boundaries of our connections, and then when we finally achieve the connect we were waiting for, we have unrealistic expectations that people will change just from that singular moment of being heard. As advanced as our technology might be, we as relatable humans are much slower. Breaking through the boundaries of communication towards intimacy is the only road to evolution.