Kenny and I are fans of 60 Minutes, the CBS news show that airs Sunday nights and I always got a kick out of Andy Rooney. His pleasant rants about things that annoyed him reminded me of my grandfather, Paul Parrott. Papa was a bit more acerbic but no less opinionated or hesitant to say what was on his mind, regardless of potential impact. Years ago when my step-father, Joe went to ask him for my mother’s hand in marriage, Papa, perhaps feeling that opportunities for his divorcee daughter might be few and far between, interrupted Joe’s heartfelt declarations of love with a terse: “Take her my boy, she’s yours!”
I watched Andy’s swan song on 60 minutes and laughed when he expressed gratitude to his fans and immediately followed that by asking them to leave him alone when they saw him in public. I was sad to hear of his death and after listening to an NPR tribute that highlighted some of his many complaints I began thinking of my own pet annoyances.
I have mentioned my love/hate relationship with the computer and cyber protocol and so it continues. I bought something for the first time on Ebay last month and, typically, did not bother to read the instructions for bidding. Kenny was out of town and unable to help me navigate but he gave me his password–he is a constant wheeler-dealer–and I went looking for a cheap Swiss Army watch. I bid on 5 watches, thinking that when one hit I’d drop the other bids. After winning the auctions on 3 of them I realized that there is no delete button on bidding. Once you’re in, you’re in. Kenny called the next day from the road where he’s touring with Bob Seger and wanted to know why I’d bought 5 watches. I did manage to get out of two of them but now I’m the proud owner of 3 Swiss Army watches, 2 of which are identical. I blame the computer.
One thing I do love and appreciate though is email. I don’t particularly like talking on the phone and email is direct, expedient and saves time–lots of it. But there are aspects of this useful tool that I find problematic. For instance: it is never a good idea to send messages that contain any emotional content by email. They don’t translate and are easily misinterpreted. I have offended several people without knowing it because I didn’t use an emoticon to clarify that what I was saying was said with love. This annoys me. Emoticons annoy me; I refuse to use them on principle.
However, easily the biggest annoyance in my mailbox is those messages from the users who routinely hit “Reply All’. I’m not referring to what I’m sure is the original intent for this option–to let everyone in a particular group know what one is bringing to the potluck so that we don’t all o.d. on casseroles made with mushroom soup. I am talking about the folks who want us to know their schedules, their pithy responses, their immense gratitude, whatever–regardless of whether or not we need or want this information. For me the epitome of overuse of this feature occurred when Lily was still in elementary school and the office sent out a field trip reminder to every family in the fifth grade. There was no request for chaperones or for any form of reply but at least 20 parents let us all know whether they would be interested in accompanying the students.
I have been associating this type of behavior with the general human disconnect that the age of technology has brought us but it’s easy for me to be disparaging because of my own ineptitude in this arena. My kids have a hashtag on many of their tweets called #typical Ashley that refers to something I’ve said or done–like referring to the facebook wall as wallpaper. Apparently I am consistent enough in providing them with material to warrant a hashtag. I should be flattered. But I do seriously believe that more than ever we want to be heard, to matter and exist in the minds and hearts and lives of others. And many of us are left wanting. Maybe it’s a stretch to extrapolate this kind of meaning from the obsessive use of “Reply All”. Maybe its just an overactive, misguided desire to be helpful, to cover every possible base, to be practically–and fully–understood.
But just in case there’s a deeper longing involved: I want to be more mindful in my interactions, to look people in the eye, to listen without interruption or distraction, to avoid flipping the topic to me. In this day and age when “friends’ can number in the thousands, I want to be personal as much as possible. I suppose you could call this a resolution. Happy New Year and may our paths cross often in 2012.