We realized that this new age of online life really has produced—especially in younger people—a knee-jerk impulse to immediately deal with whatever is going on. If you get a text, you answer the text. If you get a call, you answer the call. Only if you are legitimately occupied (say, at work, or eating with parents who outright forbid the phone at the table) can you let yourself get away with not responding. I emphasized the “let yourself get away with” part because, of course, the person who is looking for you has no idea if you are legitimately busy or just, you know, relaxing and unwinding.
See, we older folks have no problem with letting our responses wait. (Or at least we didn’t, back in the day.) If you call us, text us, email us, Facebook us, etc etc, we will get to you when we bloody well get to you. If I have a meal to enjoy, or tasks to do, or a conversation to have, or an ice cream to lick, or a story to write, I will do them and ignore your every effort to contact me until I decide the timing is right for a return to my online life/responsibilities. (… Or at least this is how I think I am. I’m not entirely convinced, even as I write this, that I don’t find myself a bit anxious at missing or ignoring or postponing certain requests for contact. I’m not entirely convinced that this new technological age hasn’t, in fact, re-wired my neurons a bit to convince me that if I don’t answer that text or email immediately I am betraying some sacred (unwitting) oath to the online gods of Constant Accessibility.) We middle-agers were not brought up—as you younger peeps have—in a time of utter transparency; we’ve been more inclined to prioritize what needs to be prioritized in order to maintain a kind of necessary balance between “I’m here for you” and “I’m here for myself”.
My daughter was a bit gobsmacked to realize that—by always being transparently available—she had led herself down a tricky little black hole. So, after a bit of discussion, I began to walk her through the old tricks of the coping-strategy trade by reassuring her that she could—in all honesty—“miss” texts/calls because she is “otherwise occupied”, no explanations necessary. There will always be time for a more timely catch-up. No ill will to beloved friends, no ill consequences for a bit of “me” down-time.
I think she got it … in theory. But in reality, I’m not really sure if she’ll ever feel totally guilt-free about putting down the phone and stepping away from the screen. I’m not even sure I will.
Deb: I SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DISAGREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, I don’t disagree at all! Sorry, Barbara, I tried. (see: Agree To Agree) I know that the youngs are so much better than we are (generally) with all things online. And thank God for their ease of knowledge as their help has saved me lots of time and given me lots of laughs as they regale me with clips of comedy shows I no longer stay up long enough to watch. But what the boomers and beyond have going for us in spades, what we excel at, is the perspective. I “flag” my emails now, to help me prioritize, but if I am socializing or really just relaxing, I am not responding. And other than genuinely time-sensitive emails, I take my time responding. I try my best, I really do, but I am not putting my life on hold for hours at a time to respond to things that can honestly afford to wait. And, frankly, I am not guilty about it. At all. It is not Hal (yet) and therefore I am still the boss of it.