Messages provide necessary link to home

February 3, 2011

My dad got a Droid for Christmas last year. I guess it was about time—he’s been toting around a five-pound Nokia since 1997—but it still kind of perplexes me that my 66-year-old father has a cooler phone than I do. I spent Christmas morning envying the sexagenarian as he sat next to the tree fandangling away on his touch screen.

The night I returned to my Village A apartment after vacation, though, my dad sent me a text that quelled some of that resentment: “Had pork loin with fennel and rosemary polenta from your Ina Garten book. Yummmm. Love, Old Guy.” The next night he sent another: “Just made a spectacular stew with ginger coconut milk and lime and deliciousness. Wish you were here.” It wasn’t Shakespeare, but these simple notes made me feel like I was still partly connected to the magic of home, even though I was back in the salad line at Chez Leo. Since then, every few days, he sends me a two to three line text, updating me on anything from his tennis game (“Won both our sets tonight, including come from behind 4-2 to win 6-4. Sleep well”) to my cat’s antics (“Frolic mews regards”).

It isn’t like I never talked to my parents before my dad upgraded to a sweet phone; I have been on a sporadic conference-call schedule with them since my freshman year of boarding school. However, the conversation usually follows the same routine: they call me, I am extremely busy, they talk, I interject “uh huh” or “wow” when appropriate, I say, “Sorry mom and dad, I have to go,” and that’s it. They may have been saying important, emotive things on the phone all along, but in today’s high-paced, high-stress college atmosphere, it’s almost impossible to pay attention to anything other than our current, immediate, innumerable to-do list.

Today’s tech geniuses have come up with cell phones, email, Gchat, Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other digital media to accommodate our increasingly frenetic society. My generation keeps up lines of global communication in a way that even George Orwell never could have fathomed. It is nearly impossible to survive out there anymore without a smart phone.

While some studies have shown that the colloquial format of text messages blurs parent-child privacy boundaries and degrades the English language, there are also studies proposing the exact opposite. As Kathleen Yancey writes in her 2004 College Composition and Communication article, “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key”, with the advent of technological media like blogs taking the place of formal essays, people have demonstrated their ability to discern between formal and informal writing and apply both in their proper settings.

It’s true my dad has zero interest in downloading ringtones or playing GameBoid, but that doesn’t mean he’s ignorant of their place and value. He doesn’t use technology to keep pace with the latest fads—he texts in full sentences and signs the majority of his texts as he would a letter (“Frolic just about has the technique for Turkish coffee down but keeps getting fur balls in the grounds. Happy MLK festivities. Love, Dad.”)  But he recognizes that texting solves the problem of the perfunctory parental phone call and texts me because it is the most effective way to stay close despite our physical, and technological, distance. His messages are, for all intents and purposes, the same as the hand-written notes he slipped in my lunchbox every day of grade school. In the midst of the “lol”s and “ttyl”s, parents can still have fully comprehensible, meaningful (“Iran has officially banned the mullet. Love, Dad”) contact with their kids, despite the growing gap in technological-comfort.

There are pitfalls to technological advances, but texting and slang do not have to create an upheaval in our social or linguistic structure. When wielded shrewdly, even Luddites can apply technological advances to keep up with the changing world. If accepting that my dad has more exciting tech gadgets than I do means that I can look forward to messages like, “Oh boy, a new week to explore new things, meet new people, and learn new stuff. Immerse yourself and enjoy!” then I say, “thx 4 the txt dad, i <3 u.”

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Geoffrey Boden

Purely charming. The tone and diction are in delightful harmony, and the observations are both scientifically accurate and absolutely darling.