Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Say What You Mean

by Elizabeth

I'm the mother of non-drivers (one close!), so I spend a significant amount of time in the car toting kids from point A to point B, both my own kids and their friends and schoolmates. Carpooling makes life easier for a lot of us in this boat, and modern technology makes carpooling even easier. Most of the time.

One recent afternoon near the final bell I group-texted the girls in my afterschool carpool that either both or neither could stay for tutoring that day. I got back two replies--both from my child--the first saying "Not going? (Friend)?" and the second, "Never mind. I'm staying."*

Look, a communication device! You'd think.
Me: "Is friend staying?"

(Call friend. No answer.)

Me: "2 or 0."

Me: "I am in car coming. You both need to come home."

Me: "I need you both to reply you got this."

Me: "No tutoring."

Me: "I expect to see you both at the curb. I really need you to communicate with me."

(Call daughter. No answer.)

Me: "I'm here. Why aren't you? This is not okay."

(Call daughter. Finally answers. Explains they both were staying for tutoring. I explain back that they had better get outside on the double.)

Daughter: "I am finding (friend)."

Me: "I am angry.**"

Daughter: "We are running."

You can use your imagination to supply the conversation that ensued when the girls got in the car a few minutes later. More than once I wondered if my daughter's silent friend would complain to her parents who would then nix the carpool. (I doubt it. I think they need it more than I do.) Let's just say there was some loud talking involved and the atmosphere was less than pleasant.

But then again, why should you use your imagination for this? I'm writing something intending to be understood, and you are reading something with the general hope to get something out of it. Just like the texts I sent, hoping to get some clear communication, so are you reading this with a similar goal.

My daughter at first defended her use of "I" to be understood as "we," but after some reaming she acknowledged that it was indeed some lousy communication. What I was angry** about was that this was a repeat offense, and what I was really angry** about was that the other kid who had apparently communicated with my daughter inside the school had failed to simply confirm that she, too, was staying. It was at best careless, and maybe even lazy, and certainly inconsiderate. (Though in the end, hardly a big deal, I know.)

It also reinforced the fact that good writing matters, and why good writing is fairly rare. It's easy to peck out a couple of letters on a keyboard and get some idea across. It's a lot harder to get a precise idea across, but for a writer, that's the job. Add elegance and style to precision, and suddenly it's clear that the writer's job requires far more than making sure "I" doesn't replace "we." It's clear that writing clearly and well takes both attention and respect.

We are living in an age of heightened communication, and this is surely not the first place you've heard someone lament that our increased communication perversely decreases our connections. My worry today is for what this will glean a generation from now. (Though history records that pretty much every generation, going back thousands of years, sighs at the thought of the next one's deficiencies.) Are we truly finally raising a population whose carelessness with writing might extend to fiction and formal writing? Or am I just "angry"** that I was inconvenienced and am illogically extrapolating a world of lazy novels and confusing biographies?

*I added punctuation. The serious deficiency of such is a rant for another day.
**Okay, I used another word.

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