What­ever smart de­vices do, they can’t take the place of reg­u­lar phone chats with my mother

Times Colonist - - Front Page - MONIQUE KEIRAN keiran_­[email protected]­et­

Face it: Smart de­vices, while use­ful, can’t hold a can­dle to di­rect con­ver­sa­tion

Who would have thought com­ment­ing about pen­man­ship, o-rings, oil changes and miss­ing but­tons would strike such a chord with you, Gen­tle Read­ers? A num­ber of you re­sponded to “Once-vi­tal skills are be­com­ing ob­so­lete” (Dec. 16).

B. Hawkeswood pointed out an omis­sion — the art of con­ver­sa­tion. “Young­sters to­day seem to use their phones or i-Pads for com­mu­ni­cat­ing. What is go­ing to happen in the fu­ture, are we go­ing to have a silent pop­u­la­tion?”

It might not come to that. The over­all pop­u­la­tion might be less so­cially deft. Peo­ple who can con­verse com­fort­ably and con­nect re­spect­fully with oth­ers in per­son might be­come fewer. How­ever, com­pe­tent hu­man in­ter­ac­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion are ba­sic hu­man life skills, with evo­lu­tion­ary ad­van­tages that will al­ways be re­warded.

We’re so­cial an­i­mals. We need di­rect, face-to-face in­ter­ac­tion, as stud­ies on the dire ef­fects of lone­li­ness on se­niors’ health at­test. The ef­fect of tens of thou­sands of years of liv­ing together and nav­i­gat­ing shift­ing so­cial land­scapes won’t dis­ap­pear.

I’m not speak­ing of the traits linked to ex­tro­ver­sion — so­cia­bil­ity, gar­ru­lous­ness, bold­ness — that are so highly val­ued in North Amer­ica. I’m speak­ing of be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate clearly and of be­ing able to re­late to oth­ers pos­i­tively.

De­spite all the tech­nol­ogy we sur­round our­selves with, we still have to live together and get along. Those who can do so will al­ways have an edge.

And, con­sid­er­ing how loud and ob­nox­ious my teenage friends and I were when we hung out together, I don’t mind when kids silently text each other on the bus.

J. Abrams, of Vic­to­ria, sug­gests the act of look­ing up words in the dic­tio­nary, know­ing how to dial old-style ro­tary tele­phones and telling ana­log time are an­cient his­tory.

Just as some once-com­mon skills are be­com­ing ob­so­lete, so, too, are some on­ce­fa­mil­iar tools.

For ex­am­ple, my first watches were of the old-fash­ioned wind-up va­ri­ety — re­mem­ber when you had to wind up your watch ev­ery day to keep it from, well, stop­ping? I’ve suc­cess­fully lost ev­ery sin­gle watch I’ve ever owned, but at one point in the late-1990s, I de­cided I needed an­other wind-up watch. Alas, time and tech­nol­ogy had moved on. No af­ford­able watches with wind­ing spring mech­a­nisms could be found, and it made lit­tle sense to in­vest large sums in some­thing I was just go­ing to lose.

Then I got a smart­phone. It tells time ac­cu­rately. Well, it tells Ap­ple time ac­cu­rately — I have to trust that the one equals the other.

The phone doesn’t come with a minute hand on its face or a ro­tary dial, but I bet there’s an app to do that.

And the de­vice does so many other, of­ten help­ful, some­times an­noy­ing, smart­phone things. It pro­vides quick ac­cess to on­line dic­tio­nar­ies — as well as pro­vid­ing some­times-ir­ri­tat­ing au­to­cor­rect and aut­ofill sug­ges­tions — when I want to look up spell­ing. It’s great for mak­ing notes, email­ing peo­ple, up­dat­ing and re­spond­ing to posts on so­cial me­dia and even — egads — al­low­ing tele­mar­keters and sur­vey tak­ers to in­ter­rupt me al­most any­time and any­where. It doesn’t, how­ever — and can’t — take the place of my weekly tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions with my mother.

But like ana­log clocks, watches and printed dic­tio­nar­ies, it’s a tool. I can turn it off, leave it at home and let its bat­tery drain so that it, well, stops. I can also lose it more eas­ily than a watch.

If that wor­ried me, I would get a smart watch, which I would al­most cer­tainly lose.

D. Stocks, of Vic­to­ria, rec­om­mends that I lose the term “snail mail,” which I used to re­fer to reg­u­lar postal de­liv­ery. “It is hurt­ful to postal work­ers, as some of them taught me a few years ago,” he says.

Point taken. The post is nei­ther run nor de­liv­ered by snails, but by some great folks who man­aged to get my hol­i­day par­cel to my mom by Dec. 24. And, what­ever the weather, my let­ter car­rier al­ways has a smile and a cheery wave when I see him.

On the other hand, I think snails might be running my lap­top — a tool I pur­chased nine years ago, use al­most daily since and am deeply at­tached to in a com­pletely im­per­sonal but en­tirely de­pen­dent way.

I can eas­ily live with­out my smart­phone, but please don’t let me lose my lap­top.

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