Friday 20 September 2019

John Masterson: It is time for us to talk... face-to-face please

John Masterson

I have always loved Curb Your Enthusiasm. In one of my favourite episodes Larry David phones Julia Louis-Dreyfus after 8.30pm in the evening. This is apparently a dreadful faux pas in LA. Julia is slow to forgive or forget and Larry, of course, finds it impossible to back down. Ireland is different. I was recently castigated by someone who woke me at 11.15pm and lectured me for about five minutes that it was a ridiculous time to have gone to bed and that I should be ashamed of myself. I didn't dare admit that I was already in bed for a full hour on that particular night.

That said, I am conscious of not phoning people at an inappropriate time. Recently, I was doing some work with a young New York-based colleague. I sent a polite text which went "When is a good time to call you?" The reply that beeped its way back read " Maybe 1960 when phone calls were normal. Email works better."


There followed a communication about my text 'demeanour'! I do not know a lot about texting apart from simple things like using capitals is shouting and is probably rude. I avoid emojis because you have to be a teen to know what they all mean. I am even nervous about adding a birthday cake as the number of candles may be an unintended insult.

Perhaps what was picked up about my text demeanour is that I would rather talk than text. And I would often rather talk than email. I usually get someone to read my emails before I press send. Tone matters and it is easy to get it wrong. The shorter the message the more likely that is. It reminds me of George Bernard Shaw, famed for his postcards, apologising for sending a letter - "I would have sent you a card but I didn't have time". Brevity takes effort and care.

When you get to talking there is talking on the phone or talking face-to-face, with FaceTime occupying some middle ground. I have always been a fan of the phone. I remember the days when there was one in a house if you were lucky. It was in the hall, the coldest place in any house. No one ever turned on the hall radiator. Next we went to a time when everyone had one on their desk. That worked well as you had a little privacy and you could take notes. Today you don't know if you are talking to someone in the bath, at a hurling match, in Grafton Street, or in bed. For all you know passengers on the Dart are hanging on to your every word. I am scrupulous about letting callers know if I am not alone or if they are on speaker.

These days there is one person who is always listening. She is called Siri. I do not trust her one bit. I am convinced that if I mention pizza I will receive an advert for a takeaway five minutes later. Siri never sleeps.

I am all for face-to-face conversation. I sat down with two friends a while back to sort out some plans. In five minutes we had thrown out all our ideas and collectively come up with a much better one. We could have been texting, emailing, or FaceTiming, or even phoning from now until Kingdom Come without success. And we might even have fallen out because of deficiencies in texting demeanour or phoning at an inappropriate time. Talk is not cheap.

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