Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Last Word

At lunch a few weeks ago one of my friends was texting with her daughter. Every so often she would make an exasperated noise, text furiously and then put her phone down. After doing this several times she exclaimed, "She ALWAYS has to get the last word! No matter what I say to end the conversation she has to make some response."

I chose not to point out the fact that she was busy doing the same thing. Every time her daughter tried to end the conversation she typed a response. I made this decision because I am frequently guilty of the same thing and I really hate having to point out my character defects to myself. I'm not sure, but I think maybe a lot of people are guilty of this. And most of us won't think of it as a problem until someone else points it out. We are simply being polite, we think, or perhaps we simply don't want the conversation to end.

Think back to those phone conversations with a romantic interest, maybe in junior high or high school. Did you or did you not engage in the time honored battle over who was going to hang up first? "You hang up first." "No, you hang up first."

Those of us of a certain age were no doubt taught that it was horribly rude not to reply if someone wrote us a letter so it has become ingrained in us to respond to any correspondence. (Letter: Correspondence similar to an email except that it is handwritten on actual paper and delivered to your home by the postal service.)

Email may have been the beginning of widespread complaints about someone needing to have the last word in correspondence. I must say that I get very frustrated when I email someone about some important event or necessary task and they don't respond. No response means I don't know whether they even received the email so I don't know whether they are up to date on whatever we are doing or not. Because this frustrates me I try to make sure I don't frustrate others by lack of response, and that could be interpreted as me needing to have the last word. I don't think so, but someone else might.

Texting, however, has created new issues. Not everyone has unlimited texting on their calling plan. Therefore, conversing with someone who always wants to have the last word can be not just annoying but expensive. (I have to remember that so I am not guilty of the electronic equivalent of "no, you hang up first" with my friends whose texting plan may not be as generous as mine.)

Blogging brings its own difficulties. Do I respond to every comment on my blogs or not? Do I assume that whatever someone is saying that seems to disagree with my opinion is in fact an argumentative statement or is it simply them taking the opportunity to air their own views. That's what the blogosphere is for, right? So I don't always have to respond, right? Mind you, this isn't usually a problem as I don't get many comments on my blogs. Of course, if people don't respond then I don't know if anyone is even reading what I've written. (Yes, you may read that last line in a whiney tone of voice.)

And let's not even talk about the conversations that result from some Facebook status updates. :D

Luckily, I am neither Dear Abby nor Miss Manners. I don't get to make the decision about what constitutes a proper conversational ending and response as opposed to trying to get the last word in other peoples' conversations. I just get to try to make the appropriate decision in my own interactions with people.


Mary Jo Bradshaw said...

Good post, but based on my experience I would make one edit: "Letter: Correspondence similar to an email except that it is handwritten on actual paper and delivered to your home OR SOMEONE ELSE'S [at the whim of] postal service."

PJMoore said...

I always read your blog, so you can assume I've seen it. ;-)

This made me think about on-line chatting. I never know when the conversation is over.....