Voicemail Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

I had some connectivity issues over the past month, mainly because I changed both cellphone carriers and ISP in the same week after my mom died. And while I’m in iPhone heaven now (more on that later), it took a bit longer to transition from Verizon to AT&T than I expected, particularly because I was dealing with so much else.

It was definitely the wrong week to have switched everything over, as voicemails were falling into the ether precisely when people who needed to express their feelings most wanted to reach me. And although my Gmail ended up being a great backstop for the gobs of misdirected email, a lot of telephony and sms ended up in the abyss. For this, I’m truly sorry. And thanks, everyone for all the support.

Now that I’m wading through the thousands of emails I missed over the month of July, I’m also coming upon a few from the Truly Angry – those who felt so ignored and neglected that they’ve decided to cut off all ties. A couple went through the process over the course two or three emails in the same week – starting out inquisitive, then getting concerned, and finally becoming angry at not getting a response.

And while it saddens me, it also reminds me of the peculiar biases of the media we are using to be with each other these days, and how easily the deletion of a voicemail message or two can decide one’s fate – much in the way those messages passed each other in Romeo and Juliet, leading to both their deaths.

There’s a leverage to electronic media – an increased leverage, I should say. Little things up close can become big things out on the periphery. These are very fragile cords we are using to orchestrate very intense relationships. (Just listen to one of Mel Gibson or Alec Baldwin’s phone messages, or read any of Tiger Woods’ txts.) But the sheer volume of exchanges makes impossible the kind of meticulous attention to detail we used to pay to written exchanges. We cannot sit at our writing desks, slowly hand-drafting our responses and slipping them into light blue airmail envelopes.

On the other hand, there’s a tremendous relief – even elation – at the sudden loss of ballast now that I’m down three or four friends. I’ve spent so much energy over the years making sure I never insulted anyone (answering every email I’ve ever received from a human, as long as it doesn’t have a physical threat) that I’m a bit relieved to have done so inadvertently. The world did not stop turning, and a few people who wanted some attention when I wasn’t prepared to offer it will find it somewhere else.

But I can’t help but feel it has more to do with the biases of these media, and the as-yet-undeclared manner in which we are all supposed to use them. If I’m on Facebook, am I supposed to respond to those messages? If I respond to one, does that mean I have to respond to them all? What about friend requests? Do my emails in response to others’ have to be as long? If they’re too short, is it too dismissive?

What is the appropriate protocol for having had a voicemail box that got filled with messages and then accidentally emptied? Does one call his entire world, to let everyone know their missive was not received? Or does that create more of a nuisance for the rest of the world? If there’s nothing I particularly *need* to hear right now, must I go out and solicit “resends” of everything I didn’t hear about?

These are questions to which we’ll either come to collective answers, or – better – learn to live without. As in life, simply give everyone else the benefit of the doubt.