Tuesday, June 9, 2009

WHO SAID SILENCE IS GOLDEN?

Conversations are tricky things. Especially in this golden age of IM when you can't always rely on facial messages to clue you in on communication subtleties like irony and sarcasm. Unless, of course, you turn on the webcam. Then, if the picture is clear enough and you aren't totally horrified by how hideous you look in that grainy computer image, you can understand the blithe spirit in which comments are made. On the other hand, as you sit there staring at the person to whom you're talking, a 30-second delay in responding to your latest nugget of profundity can seem like forever and several days.

I thought about this recently as I was having one of those slow-motion shit chats. There I was revealing all of the fascinating developments of my manic Sunday, or Monday, or whatever, and waiting...waiting...waiting. For what? Two- or three-word responses or -- worse -- those little IM shorthand symbols that I still don't really understand. This, I thought, is what country great Gene Watson was talking about when he sang his 1978 hit "One-Sided Conversation." And there I was, stuck in one of my own.

Oh, how I miss talking to people face to face, where awkward silences either indicate some dramatic plot development or perhaps a complete lack of chemistry. I remember as a kid how frustrated I'd get watching characters interact on daytime soaps. There was the one time on All My Children when Phoebe Tyler showed up unannounced on the doorstep of her daughter-in-law Tara Martin -- to do what, I've long since forgotten. But it must have been something huge. This was a 1977 Friday cliffhanger so juicy I actually missed the first day of third grade the following Monday so that I could see what happened. (Car trouble also played a role, but I didn't push the transportation issue, this, after all, being pre-VCR, TiVo and YouTube.) When Tara finally opened the door on Monday at 1pm, instead of spilling immediately, Phoebe just stood there staring at her for dramatic effect. Tara must have felt like I did last night waiting for my conversation partner to say something/anything.

I can't really recall what followed, although it couldn't possibly have been worth waiting all weekend for and missing the first day of school. But I'm sure it ended the way so many phone and face-to-face soap opera conversations do. People are always hanging up without saying goodbye or abruptly leaving the room after dropping some juicy bombshell or hurling some delicious bon mot. Nobody, apart from the very rude and/or the very diva-like, actually does that in real life -- unless they're IM'ing. I thought about this as I sat in front of my laptop the other day, waiting what seemed like eternity for every non-response. Finally, I gave up. But I wasn't going to go gently into that good night without a word, soap-opera style. I was going to have my parting shot.

"THIS CONVERSATION," I wrote in all capital letters (the IM language of anger, or annoyance), "IS OVER." Erica Kane would be so proud.
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