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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Saturday, September 15, 2012

Pick up the phone and call

Who would have thought in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell experienced his first telephone conversation with an associate, that 135 years later his invention would become the victim of such inadvertent, widespread disdain?

Technology has its place, but can you really get a genuine message like "I love you" across in an e-mail? I don't understand why people don’t just pick up the blessed phone and communicate quickly and easily instead of e-mailing, texting and creating all sorts of superfluous action, all of which could easily be disposed of with a simple—and sincere—phone call.

I think I know why people enjoy texting. First of all, technology is alluring, fascinating. So fascinating, in fact, that people are getting very technical and letting the work ethic go to hell. I see people texting while walking. In restaurants. On street corners and on planes. On trains and in taxis. However, texting and e-mailing allows you to ignore whomever you deal with for whatever reason.

E-mail or text someone and say, “Would you like to have lunch one day next week,” and you’ll likely get a reply, “Which day?” You respond with, “What about Tuesday.” The replay, “Can’t do it Tuesday, what about another day?”

“Wednesday?” “No, I have lunch with an associate in the office.”

“Thursday?” “Maybe, but I have to wait and see if my girlfriend is coming to town early.”

“When will you know her plans?” “Maybe tomorrow."

If you have been the victim on one of those exchanges, do you ever think about simply calling and asking your friend to get out his/her calendar and get it over and done with in a short conversation without having to expend all that mental energy and clumsily punch all those keys and symbols trying to find out somebody’s schedule? I’d rather skip lunch than arrange one by e-mail or text.

Internet overkill is going to ruin our society. The following exchange actually took place recently when a guy e-mailed a simple question.

“Did Georgia ever have anybody to start for the Green Bay Packers?”

My reply, “Yes, at least a couple, including Pete Tinsley, who is a member of the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.”

Him: “I’ve always wanted to see a game in Green Bay, do you know how I can find tickets?”

Me: “Packer tickets are as precious as gold, very hard to come by, but maybe you should call the Packers.”

Him: “Do you have their number?

Me: [Looked up the confounded number and e-mailed it to him.]

Him: “If I get lucky and find tickets, do you think I could get a room in Green Bay?”

Me: “Green Bay is the smallest community in the NFL. Rooms are like tickets, very difficult to find.”

Him: “My dad had a class with Zeke Bratkowski at Georgia. Do you think Zeke might be able to help me?”

Me: “You’ll have to call Zeke,” thinking surely this exercise will soon come to an end.

Not so fast.

Him: “Do you know how I can get in touch with him?”

Me: “No, friend, you are on your own.”

This is what is so frustrating about technology. Before the Internet and personal computers, nobody would pick up the phone and worry you with such a series of requests. People retire, buy a computer, and have nothing to do but annoy the hell out of their friends.

I don’t want to return to manual typewriters, not even the king of its day, the IBM Selectric, but you know if we did, there would be more productivity, more creativity, and less inconsiderate and impersonal communication.

There is no way I could function without a computer, and I love its good features — couldn’t live without them — but I’d sure like for Mr. Bell’s invention to regain its respect. And use.

I like what billionaire Boone Pickens says: “I don’t e-mail, and I don’t understand texting. Business is done on the phone or in person.”

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