Don't bother covering your telephone receiver; you can't hide anymore
The following is a work of opinion submitted by the author.
I didn't say it out loud, but the words blasted in my head, "Are you talking to me? Don't talk to me!"
I was taking an online meditation class with participants from around the world—Sergey in Russia and Stella in the Bronx — and the large face of the meditation master peering back from my 52-inch HD TV screen really did make me feel like Big Brother was watching.
"So, Lisa, what did you think?"
He was wise enough not to ask any questions until after the class.
Startled, I said not a word, hoping my teacher would just disappear. But he just asked again.
His intentions were good; he knew who was logged on, and he just wanted some feedback, but his insistent questioning broke the afterglow.
Usually I'm loquacious, ready to talk to anyone about anything, but who wants to have a video chat with a stranger at midnight when you're in your jammies in the privacy of your own home?
Actually, it wouldn't have been a problem even if I were naked; I hadn't turned on my camera. George Jetson was so much more adept with his video calls. Even Fred Flintstone was smoother on his ram's horn phone.
Later I emailed my teacher and apologized, explaining that my rude silence was based on shock. I was getting ready for bed and didn't expect anyone to speak to me or see me.
I must not have been the only one who objected. Starting with the next session, when the mediation ended, we shared reflections via text chat rather than video.
A time and a place
Don't get me wrong. I love Skype and Google video. Weekly my husband Craig and I participate in a Google hangout to talk to our 23-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who lives across the globe in Stockholm.
Usually she calls while cooking or eating her dinner. I'm learning how she is expanding her palate and eating regionally popular foods that she didn't have growing up — herring, lox, rhubarb, buttermilk — and I get to salivate over her baked goods — biscuits and Swedish cakes. It's almost like we're sharing food together. We are a food-obsessed family and talk about food a lot anyway. At extended family dinners, we've been known to take as many photos of the pastries as of the guests.
I also get to see her latest hair phase — pink streaks, shaved head — her new roller skates, whether she has gotten much sleep, the leafy courtyard outside her kitchen door — and sometimes more than she might have said on the phone.
"Say hi to Mike," I told her recently, referring to her long-time friend and sometimes boyfriend.
"I will," she said. "He often asks for you."
Five minutes later who popped out of another room but Mike?
"Wasn't that Mike?" I asked as he ducked past the camera.
"Yeah," she said. "Want to say hello?"
His presence wasn't a secret, but his status is currently in flux, so she didn't want to let on that he was there until there was video evidence. Boyfriend or friend? Rebecca didn't want me to be thinking too hard about it.
Is that a phone in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
But even a mundane cell phone can disclose more than you might want. My husband was once a notorious pocket dialer. Until he cured his problem with a newer model, I used to receive a reassuringly boring message once a week from one of his accidental dialings. There was Craig with one of his computer clients, and I was getting a blow-by-blow account of his troubleshooting.
"It's a good thing you're not having an affair," I teased. "I'd rather be bored by the details of your troubleshooting than get a call from your lunch-time hotel room."
When I said this, I had no way of knowing that he would actually soon make a pocket call from a hotel room. Luckily the person in the hotel room was me.
One evening after a wedding in Florida, we went back to our room and had sex. By Monday, when we were home again, one of Craig's clients mentioned a pocket call she got from him on Saturday evening. Though the client didn't provide any details, she did mention the time of the call, which was right after the wedding.
When my husband told me about her comment we both looked at each other and laughed. We'll never know for sure what she heard. Though we weren't really happy about our inadvertent kind-of sexting, we're both thankful it wasn't a video call.
In the end all this awkwardness won't stop me from indulging in technology. I just got an iPhone for my birthday, and I love it. (I'm a late smart-phone adopter.)
You can't blame phones for miscommunication; it's a phenomenon that dates back to the dawn of language.
Lisa Meritz is a freelance marketing communications manager/writer (at Meritz Marketing) who lives in Philadelphia. Her work has been published in Philadelphia Stories, Metropolis, the Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle, and more.