SACKVILLE, N.B. (CUP) &- Have you noticed how Starbucks is constantly making up new kinds of specialty coffee? A cursory glance at their menu tells me nothing. I have no idea what most of the menu represents, and that’s okay with me. There was a time when you could feel trendy and modern when you bought specialty coffee. I’ve even purchased Jones Soda at Starbucks in Regina and felt very bohemian.
Urban theorist Richard Florida uses proxy measurements for quantifying cool, but I think specialty coffee should be the standard. The problem is that you always have to up the ante to stay ahead of your lame suburban friends who also enjoy deuterated caramel mocha matcha chai frappucinos on their commute to work. Once upon a time, if you drank espresso, that was enough.
Truth be told, though, there is a huge problem with espresso and it’s not that the beans aren’t properly ground or the water isn’t hot enough. The problem is with the pronunciation. I have heard far too many people refer to this overpriced ebony nectar as “expresso.” And it doesn’t stop there: the last five or six times someone has used the term “et cetera’ in my presence, they’ve said “ex cetera.” During the Bush years, “nuclear” routinely became “nuke-ular.” Heck, even pronunciation becomes “pronounciation” at times. Leaving that aside, the invention of new words is always a good time. “Irregardless” is my favourite. “Unthaw” and “dethaw” are equally hilarious. One would do well to ask, with what we are replacing our decreasing capacity to speak English?
And the answer, this year, is clear: text messaging. For some reason, “texting” &- also not a word &- is popular in a new way this year. You have to keep your head up walking around campus to avoid running into someone who is texting. The quality of the text communication is mind-numbing. It’s like grade six kids on MSN Messenger. However, the texting, the mispronunciations and the invented words really aren’t the biggest problem. A new, less personal style of communication is pervading our lives.
We assume that we can do two things at once. We give our cell phones more attention than the people in front of us. Occasionally I’ve been asked if I’m paying attention to what someone is saying. I, and many people, tend to get a bit defensive and embarrassed, but I think it’s a good question. I’ve certainly been guilty of trying to send a quick email while talking on the phone. My mom can always tell, though. And that’s because when I’m not really present in a conversation, I’m not really present in that conversation. At a certain point, you must ask yourself whether the person across the table from you matters. And if they do, they deserve your physical, mental and emotional attention.
Eye contact is hard to find, as is someone who will take twenty minutes out of his or her day to ask about yours. Small talk, on the other hand, is easy to find in a vibrant university setting, but I’m concerned that real communication is being lost in the shuffle. Deep understanding requires deep communication, and an investment of time and energy. We all long for someone to understand us deeply. That’s hard to find when the land is littered with text messages about nothing in particular.
In most cities people often don’t really know anything about their neighbours, but they will ride the bus or drive across town to meet someone they have known for a long time. New friendships, it would seem, take too much time. We’re too busy texting our buddies to figure out where to meet to notice that our neighbours are having trouble moving a freezer up the stairs.
In the end, it’s not texting itself that I am decrying. The real problem is that it seems to be allowing us to ignore the human beings walking next us. Depths of friendship, love, and understanding won’t drop in our laps. We have to work for them. Multi-tasking won’t work this time. It takes intentionality to sacrifice your time and energy investing in communication. But maybe it’s time that intentionality becomes the new buzzword. Just don’t mispronounce it.