Communication 2012: Crazy, Busy, Complicated Lives

by JL Beeken on 5-21-2012

Time goes. And chances for communication go.

I’ve spent a lot of time kicking myself for not spending enough time with one of my grandmothers when I was young & stupid because I think I should have been smarter.

I’ve had a crazy, busy, complicated life. So crazy, busy and complicated that I don’t know most of my own family. In fact, I know my long-deceased ancestors better.

In an attempt to make my life less crazy, less busy and less complicated I moved about 30 years ago to a place that’s not on the way to or from anywhere. You practically need super-powers to get here in the first place. The local traffic is predictable. We have roads but not terribly good ones. We have an airport, just barely. If you’re flying a Cessna. There’s a bus here and there but who travels by bus anymore? Driving anywhere is far away.

So, it’s quiet here. If you’re reclusive anyway, this is a good place to be even more reclusive.

I’ve been doing this reclusive thing for so long I’m just barely aware of how easy communication has become.

Here’s a few clips of what’s been happening lately.

I got a lead on a brick wall ancestor. OK, admittedly, after saying I was getting away from computers for awhile, that took a computer. Actually, it just took a phone call but my main phone-line is Skype so that means my computer. I had to turn it on.

I have an 87 year old uncle who’s a fan of Skype. So I called him up. First time in years. I could phone him every week. He’s an old guy living alone. He has old-guy health problems. He’s almost blind. What’s he doing all day? Not much. Being a bit depressed about being an old guy. He’s still sharp as a whip with a great sense of humour. I think a phone call is going to bother him? No, it isn’t. It actually makes his day.

I asked him to tell me some stories that he’d told me before. Because there’s a trick here if you think about it. He said he’d already told me everything. I said, never mind, tell me again. Out popped all kinds of details I’d never heard before. He just thought he’d told me everything.

Try that trick. It’s a good one.

Then I phoned my best friend from about 40 years ago. We send each other a quick email about once a year that says nothing. What’s wrong with us?

Well, what’s wrong with me is that I grew up during a time when long-distance phone calls were made once a year to grandma at Christmas time and each of us kids was given a max of 10 seconds to say ‘hi’ and then the phone was grabbed out of our hands.

For most of my adult life I didn’t have a phone so I still don’t ‘do phone’ very well. It’s an odd little thing. The ringing makes me jump out of my skin and I usually throw the closest towel, sweater or pillow at it to shut it up rather than answer it.

After it finally dawned on me to dial her number, we talked for 5 hours like she’d just stepped out of the room two minutes ago. While we were at it, I sent her an invitation to¬†Dropbox so we can share photos and other things. She’s on dial-up and totally tech-illiterate and was still able to get it downloaded and installed.

Then two of my nieces decided on very short notice to fly across the country and visit their grandmother because they’d been putting it off for years (crazy, busy, complicated lives) and decided they shouldn’t keep doing that. Fortunately, my 80-something mother did not have a heart-attack when she saw them but, as the story goes, got frozen to the floor. Literally, could not move. Which gave one of my nieces a chance to snap a photo of the look on her face.

I’m telling this story backwards because I didn’t know anything about this. It started with a message on my cellphone to call my mother back. Nothing unusual. I thought it might have been from yesterday and almost deleted it without listening. But I did listen and I did call her back. On the webcam I saw one of my nieces sneak behind her chair to the other side of the screen. She’s 37 and I’ve never met her but I recognized the side of her head from photographs. I’ve watched her grow up in photographs for 37 years. Is that … ? I asked as my mind started reeling.

And then the head of my other niece – 40 years old and I met her once, ever so briefly, running between classes at a university – suddenly popped up on the screen and I said, Oh my god! and kept saying ‘oh my god’ until someone finally interrupted my daze.

Pretty dramatic considering that this is 2012. Everyone and their dog has a Facebook account and people post on Twitter to total strangers what they had for breakfast. I, on the other hand, have reams of living relatives I’ve never met, never spoken to, never seen, can’t remember the names of …

What absolutely boggles me about this is that communication is SO easy nowadays. There’s almost no reason we can’t talk with almost anyone in the world on a second’s notice, dance in front of a webcam, take screenshots of it, see each others’ computer screens …

Two things to do today if you haven’t already done them.

Download and install Skype. (Use an older version so screen-sharing still works for free.) Call all your relatives (the ones who aren’t psychotic or nasty or something) and tell them to do the same. Get on each others’ contact lists.

Download and install Dropbox. Set up shared folders with all these people so you can share photos and stuff.

Now. Do it now. Say ‘hi’ to your family. Someone, somewhere is going to be very happy to hear from you.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tessa Keough 5-22-2012 at 7:51 AM

Guilty as charged! Not a fan of Skype so much but do love Google+ Hangouts. The key not matter what system you use is to talk to people – listen to their stories, don’t interrupt, but certainly ask questions to flesh out more information. I like being able to share my screen (you could also share through Dropbox) and have them look at a photo or document (the census always gets them to remember neighbors and/or friends).
We are so lucky today with the ease and low cost (or no cost) for staying in touch. We need to remember to make those calls and have those conversations. Thanks for the reminder.

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JL 5-22-2012 at 12:10 PM

The census! That’s a great idea. Neighbours = More Stories.

Cuz and I do screen-share quite a bit for ID-ing old photos but we tend to travel in a small circle with our information assuming the rest of the family doesn’t care that much right now. And computers are still a deep mystery to most of them. That’s the biggest problem but a lot of that can be solved through screen-sharing on Skype (or whatever). Cousin Sam has come miles over the months we’ve been doing that.

Seeing my nieces animated on a video screen at all was just amazing! They live over 4,000 miles from here and they don’t write, they don’t call. Everyone’s busy. Same old.

Then they started bombarding me with family history questions. They’re so INTERESTED and who would have known? I instantly became a rockstar (geneastar?) when I showed them an old photo through screen-share.

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