The other night my parents were telling me about the mysteries and adventures of modern communication. As Mom tried to explain, her new phone kept “dinging” at all hours of the day and night. Mom is a deep sleeper (and deaf in one ear), so Dad was kindly waking her up because someone was trying to reach her in the middle of the night. (She is a nurse who often works on-call and does get contacted at all hours.) “It kept dinging,” they both told me.
As a result of our conversation, “ding” is now synonymous with text message.
“I’ll ding you later.”
“Ding me when you get there.”
In my mind, ding is the sound of a shop door bell, or the sound the old typewriter made when the platen reached the margin and needed to be returned. I remember using the word ding to mean an imperfection, like a small dent. “There’s a little ding in the bumper from an incident in the parking lot. But nothing major.”
Now, Mom tells me to ding her. This feels strange.
So in my mother’s world (of which I am part), the onomatopoetic ding now represents a level of communication — because of an alert noise on a smartphone.
Networked. Connected. Messages transmitted and received. We talk. Our interactions punctuated by customizable ringtones and alerts.
Now, notice how many people move their thumbs as if texting when they describe talking to someone. “And then I said…” [thumbs moving]. Talking with our hands has new meaning.
Language evolves. We evolve. Gestures and meanings shift and change. And a word that once meant a simple noise or a small dent is now a lighthearted family reference to sharing words, pictures, and emoticons; to staying in touch; to maneuvering the slippery world of interpersonal communication in a technology-driven culture.
I can ding you. But I don’t want it to define our relationship. And if we get the chance, what I’d really love is some quality time together, sharing physical space. In our busy lives, we make do, make compromises with time and location, and appreciate the communication technology affords. I never take for granted, though, the pleasure of good company.
Come, sit with me. Let’s talk. Set the phones aside, and let us be here together. I enjoy your company.