Tablets and smart phones – stifling our communicating selves

To type or not to type – that is the tablet question. A long time ago in a cubicle far, far away, one fingered poking at keys sent a clear message – this person can’t touch type. Must have missed the high school typing class in favor of shop.  I knew many one-fingered programmers, back in the day – they advanced to management quickly to avoid exposure as the typing frauds they were. They weren’t big on writing longhand letters, and voluminous e-mails were not strengths. But authors, journalists and now bloggers (all 156 million of them) know that their strength is in paragraphs with punch AND punctuation, clauses, and…even upper-lower case. But with tablets and smart phones, the era of richness in typed text may be near an end – watch the swiping users to know of what I speak.

Smart phones are even dumber about text. So let’s say someone has found a real keyboard to attach to their tablet, or they are sending you detailed thoughts and ideas for your comment. There you are, oh traveler, anxious and ready to reply and weigh in. But there you are with your tablet or your miniscule smart phone soft keyboard, poking at a screen with one finger, watching (or not noticing) auto-correct munch your meaning. You accidentally include angry clients in an e-mail address, and shiftless typist that you are -- you omit the punctuation that would convert your nonsense into prose. Your touch screen slips from your hands, catapults you to another screen, forgets the URL you were on and leaves you breathlessly pounding the tiny back arrow. 

We’ve lost balance between online consumption and coherence of thought. Because it is too hard to type, punctuate or capitalize, we just don’t.  Far easier to read and view than respond, our e-mails pile up in favor of online chatting and its teeny-tiny cousin -- texting – truly brevity at its, uh, briefest.  Tablets are so light, so easy to inhale the news, slipping into purses and jackets. They are so inversely proportional to the heft and functionality of monster Dell and Sony laptops that road warriors wish they could leave home – tablets and smart phones seem so sensible. And so additive to the media we own.  Don’t you wonder how in our horrendous economy, widespread uncertainty and job instability that so many of them are selling so well?

Don’t trash that computer and cell phone yet – retro may return.  Some analysts see the tablet and smart phone as signaling the beginning of the end of their predecessors – laptops, desktops, and cell phones – still the mainstay of older (and oldest) adults. As with previous tech trends, it can be one step forward, two back. Some early adopters tire of talking on hockey pucks with bad keyboards -- and also carry a cell phone.  Or they may plug in a head/handset to their not-so-smart phone that feels just like an old-fashioned phone handset. Some tablet owners may tire of shifting and leaving sticky fingerprints. Ever so trendy, even they may tire of carrying an extra keyboard just to write in full sentences, tire of replying to people they care about with yup, nope, and LOL.  As tablets evolve to more sophisticated designs, they may grow to resemble – dare I say it – lightweight netbooks, notebooks, or laptops with touch screens that start quickly and enable multiple viewing formats.  Mark my words – as with retro clothing, houses and cars, what’s old hat may become new and cool again.

I miss a full keyboard on these new devices.

As someone who learned to type in high school back in the 70's, I keep asking everyone who extols the virtues of all the new tablets, smartphones, and ereaders, etc. - what about a full keyboard so we can correspond fully, with full punctuation and grammatical phrases and sentences. I don't like the trend of less is good enough, either. I intend to keep my desk top!

Comments on your latest blog

Good morning Laurie,

I agree heartily with your writing!

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that intelligent, meaningful communication between people of all ages, seems like a lost art or science. Just walk through any mall and you will see many people< especially younger ones under the age of 55, walking and madly "texting" their friends and whomever back and forth. I use the term younger as I am 76, and learned a long time ago that many people fond it very difficult to carry on an in-depth conversation that is of substance and really meaningful, with many people that I interact with during the course of a normal business or social day. Intimate, real conversations are unfortunately a rarity!

I just recently had the pleasure and opportunity to begin working on the architectural design of a new facility for an organization that works with deaf people and most of the staff of this organization are also deaf.

Even though I do not know sign language and require an interpreter to effectively communicate with these deaf people, I am amazed that they can communicate far more effectively and "from the heart" with me! For they speak, not only using their hands to sign, they also speak using facial expressions and body language to carry on meaningful conversations.

While, at the same time, younger generations seem to have never developed the ability to effectively communicate to each other face to face, and carry on "meaningful" in depth conversations. I find it sad that so many people fear in depth conversations and their conversations are topical and often of little real worth.

I am the father of five adult children, and nine grandchildren, most of which text me "bits and pieces" of whatever it is they are trying to communicate. Instead of responding using a text message, I instead will call them and thus be able to hear the tonal inflections in their voices, resulting in an in depth and meaningful conversation.

P.S. I have been finding you writing to be "right on" most of the time and of substantial worth to me. Keep up the good work.

Best,

Larry

I deal on a daily basis with people all over the country in my business and social dealings, and whenever I find the party on the other end of the computer, or so called "smart" phone tries to engage me in a conversation whose subject matter is of value, I will respond to the other part with a brief e-mail stating that we need to carry on this conversation via telephone (so I can hear the tonal inflections in their voice) and thus engage in meaningful conversation.

I have myself found that, due to a minor arthritic condition in my hands coupled with just average vision, to have no interest in owning a smart phone , tablet, or other "partial" communicating device! As a member of the "senior population", I find that I am perfectly comfortable with my desktop computer with a great 24" monitor, and my 15.5" laptop.

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