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Communicating in the age of interruption

I had the pleasure of carpooling a gaggle of girls home from the bowling alley last weekend, and all I can say is, “Ohmigod – like, it was really an eye opener, you know?”The event was a church youth group outing, and my own seventh-grade son was the lone male in the car as I chauffered some of our neighbor kids home. Driving with so many pubescent girls in one vehicle is a lot like driving under the influence; you just shouldn’t do it. As we left the bowling alley, the group divided into four cars, and the girls took a few extra moments to hug each other with shouts of “I love you!” as though Monday morning math class was a lifetime away. We piled into the car, and before the door was all the way closed, the cell phones were in hand. I decided to be quiet and simply listen to the chatter because, quite frankly, there was no other choice. “Ohmigod, I have to call Hannah.””You just said goodbye to her,” I said, confused.”Hannah? Ohmigod, what are you guys doing in your car? Us, too. Just a minute I have to put my seat belt on, too. Oh, wait I’m being text messaged. Hold on.”The other girls leaned in close to stare at the miniature screen that was apparently unveiling words of wisdom at warp speed.”Ohmigod, what should we text back? Wait – I still have Hannah on the other line.” Click. “Hannah, I have to text message Kate, I’ll call you back.” Click.”Isn’t Kate in the same car with them?” I said, still confused.”Should we send her the picture of us bowling? What do you think of this one?” They all reviewed the selection of stills saved on the camera phone. “Ohmigod, send that one. Wait. My phone’s ringing. Hello?””OK, I’m text messaging her now -“”Hi Daddy, we’re just leaving. I know I’m your princess. Yes, I’ll call you when we get there so I can say good night to you. I love you, too, Daddy.” Click.”Ohmigod that is so funny. That’s the way you have to talk to your dads when they call. I’m all ‘Yes, I’m your princess,’ and he’s all ‘Call me later’ and we’re both like, ‘I love you.'”At which point the girls all erupted in laughter that came to a sudden halt when a Britney Spears ringtone pierced the air. “Ohmigod, hi! Did you get the picture? I know, huh?” “Tell her about calling the candy company.””Ohmigod, so we called the people who make Skittles because they say on the package that the candy is rainbow colored and we were like, ‘Where’s the rainbow? I’m not seeing the rainbow here.’ And the candy makers were like, ‘What?'””What?” I echoed, yes, still confused. “You actually called the candy maker?””So what did he say when she broke up with him?””The candy makers broke up with someone?””Oh, wait – I’m getting another call, hold on.”I assure you the 30-minute drive was nothing short of exhilarating for me as I watched the teenage girls prevail over their technology and prattle with the speed of light. When they finally exited the car amid proper thanks and giggles (manners toward adults can apparently throw young girls into fits of laughter), I took a deep breath. It occurred to me that, teenage girls or not, our technology divides us as much as it unites us. Six people can spend 30 minutes in a car together yet say absolutely nothing to one another. We give only partial attention to others while navigating our cell phones, i-pods and Blackberrys, and have the nerve to call it the age of communication. Writer Thomas L. Friedman calls it the age of interruption. Still, I appreciate the ability to text message a note of encouragement; share photos of people we love; say goodnight to a father. The duality of our communication technology ensnares me.This flashed through my mind as I watched the girls skip into the house, its warm lamplight glow welcoming them and their cheerful chatter. Then -“Whoa,” a voice said from the darkened backseat of the minivan, startling me. I’d almost forgotten my 13-year-old son was with me. “My sentiments exactly,” I said with a smile.After a moment in the familiar quiet, I finally asked, “Did you have fun tonight?””Yeah. Lots.”And with that proliferation of words, mother and son drove into the night. Charla Belinski teaches positive parenting courses and writes each week about parenting and family life. Her columns appear in the Post Independent every other Sunday. Contact her at Belinskis@comcast.net.Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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