Well folks, I’m pleased to tell you that the whole bar mitzvah thing is officially over – Bailey has sent out his very last thank you note. What I found fascinating, was that when appropriate, my American son wrote his thank you notes at least partially in Japanese. This particular one here is special because it is to his private Japanese sensei with whom he has been working for four years. Sensei bought Bailey the most appropriate and wonderful gift for his bar mitzvah: a Hanko. A Hanko is a Japanese signature stamp. It can be registered with the ward office when Bailey is fifteen, and he will be able to sign legal documents with it. Marc and I have never bothered to get one; foreigners don’t have to, but Bailey has been given one. Sensei also designed a kanji for him, and assigned it meaning as only she could, using the characters for Bay-Re and Rice, symbolic of an American, but talking about how the combination of the letters connotes ideas like bright and clever, which are very much in line with Bailey’s personality, according to her. Our sensei is a very special person in our lives and this was an exciting coming-of-age gift for him. It was no wonder that he wanted to write to her in a combination of the languages that they share.
The other day, the American School in Japan (ASIJ), where my son is in 8th Grade, sent out an email reminder to ask parents to e-sign a permission slip for the kids to stay after school to go to the high school football game. It’s a K-12 school, and once or twice a semester, the games are played on a Friday night under the lights instead of on Saturday morning, and the PTA makes a night of it with concessions, games for kids, etc. However, ASIJ is in Chofu, about an hour outside of Central Tokyo, so transportation is always an issue. It happens to be the night of the middle school dance, and normally because of the distance, dances are held from 4:30-6:30 so the kids take a late bus home. The school was asking middle school parents to sign that they are responsible for their own kids at game-time, after the dance, and will get them home safely. If the parent isn’t going to be there, he or she has to list who exactly is responsible for the child. Very American-style safety-conscious. My mother would be so proud.
Both parents get this particular email. When it came into my in-box, I ignored it because I knew I had already signed the permission slip for Bailey. My husband, Marc, forwarded it to me asking, “Did you do this?”
My response, in my mind, was a little snarky: “What do you think?”
Well, I’m generally pretty on top of the Weinstein schedule and work very hard to make sure permission slips and things aren’t lost in flux. I’m not perfect and I make plenty of mistakes, but I’m very detail oriented and I have a good record. To me, that was already ticked off the list. Been there, done that.
That wasn’t how Marc “heard” the message though. He “heard” me asking his opinion on whether or not Bailey should go to the game and IF we should sign the permission. “What do you think? (About Bailey doing this event?)
So Marc’s response was: “I thought he was intending to do this, no?”
I was astonished. He totally misunderstood me, and for a minute, I didn’t understand what he meant, either. I wrote back: “You loony – you asked if I did this and I asked, what do you think – meaning do you think I did it? Well of course I already did it! There was no harm in doing it. If he changed his mind, he could get on the late bus after the dance. But I’m sure he wants to stay. We’ll drive out there to be there before 7. The dance ends at 6:45, so we should probably be there before that so we’re officially responsible for him.”
That’s when Marc realized the miscommunication: “That’s the problem with email. When I read it, I heard you asking it as, “do you think we should let him stay” as opposed to, “duh, of course I already did it.”
That’s when I responded, “Yes, hearing is pretty lousy via email, I agree.”
Marc’s response, knowing me very well indeed, “Sounds like a blog post.”
We are lucky, Marc and I, that we have become pretty adept over the years at clearing up miscommunications. People get in trouble for what they say via email all the time, partly because the recipient can’t hear the intended innuendo, tone of voice, or facial expression. I’m sure when phones were first invented people had miscommunications all the time. Now we have a thousand different ways to communicate and just as many ways to MIScommunicate. People get knots in their knickers about this all the time when a simple, “what do you mean?” type of question would be indicated. It’s not that hard. Just tell people that you have trouble hearing them when they email.
We are going to enjoy that football game on Friday!
Everyone has a smart phone in this crazy world. We have apps, texting, and access to email all day, every day. Some might even call it 24/7 access to communication tools. However, to me, it seems that the smarter we get with these phones, the less we seem to communicate.
Now before you go calling me a technophobe or a Luddite, or anything else, please note that I have a smart phone and I use it mightily. In fact, I love it. I rely on it so much that it’s always at my hip. I know my students love that I can be reached all the time, and my kids find it handy also. My husband loves to text me to tell me that he’s going to be late coming home from work because then he doesn’t get immediate feedback from me and I have time to consider my words before replying. A phone call does not allow that type of consideration.
What gets us in trouble is when we use these types of tools to replace voice communication. My son, age 12, prefers to text or email a friend to ask him to come over to hang out rather than to call and arrange the date. I was talking with a friend last week, and she told me that her nearly-13-year-old daughter was having some trouble with some girls at school – the typical adolescent friendship triangle where both of the other two girls didn’t want my friend’s daughter to be friends with the other girl. My friend’s daughter felt like she couldn’t talk to the girls at school – there wasn’t time in the day. So my friend suggested that her daughter call each girl. That was rejected as too scary. What my friend’s daughter ended up doing was sending a tentative text to test the waters of the girls’ feelings. My friend was upset – how could she teach her child to communicate when there were so many methods available to avoid full-on communication? She did not understand how the three girls could resolve their differences via text message. And as of yet, they haven’t. They are all practicing studious avoidance – and it’s causing more problems. Some of this is typical adolescence, but some of it is exacerbated by technology as well.
I see it in my students all the time. They sit next to each other and send text messages to each other. In class their phones are on silent but I hear a distinct “hummn” of a vibrated incoming message every few minutes from someone’s pocket or backpack.
My sister-in-law said that a few years ago, she was in the habit of driving carpools for her kids to various activities, and all of a sudden, she realized she had a car-full of six kids from ages 14-16 who were completely silent. All of them were looking down studiously at their phones and texting. No one spoke. I read a facebook status a few weeks ago: “It is imperative when driving that one person in the car stop texting to watch for the light to turn green.” They’re not texting and driving, technically, right?
I am certain that more than 100 years ago when the telephone became ubiquitous that people lamented the lack of face-to-face visits which were being replaced by phone conversations. We had the same crisis-like posts when email came on the scene in full-force, too. This is the same concept. I guess as long as some type of communication is happening and kids are not sitting alone in their houses all the time doing it, we’re still in somewhat good shape.
There is a lot about which to worry in these scenarios, though. Voice communication is going down, as is face-to-face communication. Texting language, in all of its glorious brevity, is appearing in more and more written communication inappropriately. What does this mean for kids now? Well, I think it means more assiduous attention to detail and teaching communication skills. There are times when texting is fine – confirming a meeting time, sending a brief comment. But there are times when a phone call is better – ironing out a problem, expressing love. And importantly, sometimes only a visit will suffice – to a grieving friend or family member. As I tell my students, it’s important to “know your rhetorical situation.” Check your audience and then act appropriately. Do not use texting language when communicating with your professor. Conversely, do not use long words when texting.
All of these methods of communicating could lead to MORE communication between people if it’s all used appropriately. It is up to us, as the teachers and parents of the young people, to teach kids the appropriate ways to do it. Are you up for that challenge? I am.