Fishman: Out with the inbox 

There are many ways to visit with old friends - sharing a meal in a restaurant, serving a meal in your home, talking on the phone.

But each, in its own way, is subject to interruption - from dealing with overeager servers to paying attention to a demanding recipe to suppressing the temptation to multitask.

“Are you washing dishes?” someone asked me the other day during a long phone conversation, sounding slightly miffed. “Or sitting on the pot.”

“Oh, you heard,” I said, leaving the answer open-ended.


instead, I tiptoed to my desk, phone firmly ensconced between ear and shoulder, where without losing any eye contact or introducing any amplified noise, I commenced to delete my trash file and/or check some trash blogs. if it’s on the weekend when we have more minutes on our plans and I see the conversation starting to pick up speed, I’ll pick up a broom and start sweeping one-handed.

For some of us, sitting still is awfully hard when there are so many other things to do. This is particularly pronounced when network access problems interrupt our daily dip into the rest of the world, let alone the chance to drop a line or two to a friend.

“I had to read a book!” I announced to someone since except for the occasional HBO movie or repeat of some missed Jon Stewart show the night before, I draw the line on daytime TV. Nothing before 6 and only then to catch the latest murder and mayhem.

What a concept, sitting in one spot to read a book, in this case the eloquent and rather demanding Roger Angell in a collection of essays (not all baseball, either) he calls Let Me Finish.

With no effort at all I was transported back in time to Angell’s quiet, deliberate, intentional and very pre-Internet world of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. No multitasking there.

When he cited correspondence either sent or received, I thought - not for the first time - what we are leaving behind in the way of social archeology. Certainly not letters.

When is the last time you received a personal letter?

Email correspondence, grand and easy as it is right now,  will get us nowhere and tell us nothing. How will the missives be “read”? Yes, we have the files, the discs, the “documents.”


But new computers cannot read these files. Already the federal government has to have a special building to house all the old and outdated computers, just to be able to decipher these documents.

Good luck, future historians.

As Dick Cavett writes in a new blog, “there’s plenty of evidence to conclude that our grip on our glorious language may be loosening.”

I feel like culling together my dwindling collection of letters and contributing them to research. I couldn’t say the same about my emails.

Nothing we write comes close to the eloquent or expressive nature of times past. Remember Ken Burn’s series on the Civil War when he read letters between soldiers and loved ones? And these were not particularly educated people. Scary.

Are we less expressive or less apt to express emotion? I go back and forth on this one. Maybe, because we’re faced with so many options of things to do, we are finding ways to squeeze emotion or intimacy or reflection out of our lives. 

But lately, I’ve noticed a trend that  manages to combine quality and intimate visiting, proper focus, individual attention and, at no extra charge,  the day’s requisite exercise.

Walking and talking.

For those of us multitaskers lucky enough to live near a beach on an ocean, we already know the value of walking and talking. I’ve had some of my best talks with family members on the beach.

In some ways, not having to look right at someone makes the exchange of intimate experiences easier. We don’t have to hunt for reactions or look for clues to a response.

It beats talking to someone on the bus, but that’s not a bad way to communicate, either. Especially with strangers.

Either way, we have an excuse for avoiding eye contact. We can focus on the thought rambling around our brains. Without anyone looking at us, we can develop the idea slowly, completely.

Conversely, finding a rhythm during a walk, establishing a cadence, step by step, round by round is a great way to exchange and trade experiences.

“Four times around Forsyth Park,” a friend jotted in an email when writing about a visit he had with a mutual confidant, which is about the distance he and I went during our last good tete a tete.

All you need is a good pair of shoes and ears. 


About The Author

Jane Fishman

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