I miss letter writing and actually having verbal debates

in Contributors/Scott Graber by

By SCOTT GRABER

It’s Sunday morning and it’s cold — cold enough for a fire in our small hearth. Once removed from our still wet lawn, today’s Beaufort Gazette plunges into the murky waters of local government revealing a series of recent e-mails. Then it allows these succinct, succulent sentences to speak for themselves.

Not so long ago, one could avoid leaving a record if one used a telephone. Or one might meet a colleague (at Blackstone’s) trusting one’s colleague wasn’t taking notes.

But email’s arrival changed the communication landscape, dramatically displacing the telephone and making letter writing as ancient as the pre-Columbian carvings at Uxmal in the Yucatan. Part of the attraction is the easy, almost instantaneous transmission of one’s thoughts.

One can sit down — and in a matter of seconds — conceive and solidify one’s thinking without having to ponder too hard about spelling, punctuation or the internal logic of what one is trying to say. Importantly, one can push one’s thoughts into the ether without hearing the immediate, verbal response,  “My God, have you completely lost your mind?”

Most people prefer sending their thoughts, often illogical and sometimes irrational, without the fear of rejection — now that “caller ID” is available, the fear of rejection lurks behind every telephone call.

I also think many are willing to make their case, but not willing to argue that case with another sentient human being. This seems to be the case with lawyers today.

I happen to be a lawyer and have noticed that the Friday afternoon telephone call which starts with “Scott, I know its Friday, and you’re looking forward to the weekend, but I’ve got to tell you that I’m going to file pleadings on Monday” is as rare as the call of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

But what is equally rare is a return call from the lawyer who filed those Monday morning pleadings. If there is a response it’s always by way of an email, not a telephone call, and that email rarely invites further debate of the facts or a discussion of the applicable law.

One might argue that this is acceptable, even desirable behavior — one doesn’t want one’s lawyer getting timid, reluctant or squishy when laying out his allegations of negligence or breach of contract.

But the loss of civil discussion — I’m talking verbal discussion here — is not a good thing for lawyers or their clients. Lawyers who can argue with each other on the telephone and then continue that debate over lunch later that same week better serve the interests of their clients.

But those candid, hard-hitting, face-to-face discussions have often been displaced by a faceless, discussion-ending email.

We’ve all seen words (in an email) that would never, ever be spoken if these folks were face to face in the same room. We’ve all seen emails that spew a loathsome, passive-aggressive cocktail of indignation and self-righteousness.

And so lawyers descend into an angry silence — and, yes, there is something to be said for the motivational aspects of anger — waiting for the court-ordered mediation which will occur months later.

I know that emails are easy, instantaneous and don’t require a stamp.

I know that sending a text has revolutionized the way my friends communicate with their out-of-town children. One constantly hears that although they lack telephone communication with their son or daughter; those same kids immediately respond to a text.

But I do miss the telephone and the back and forth that once characterized the legal profession.

I’m 74 and intimidated by computers, cell phones and software in general. I don’t carry my computer to depositions like the younger lawyers — I rely on a Pentel brand ballpoint and a yellow pad.

And it’s not surprising that the response, “OK Boomer” is now part of the vocabulary of every person under 40.

“OK Boomer” is the quick, dismissive Millennial response when a baby boomer says that cell phones cause encephalitis and ear buds sometimes explode. It is the cryptic reply when a boomer questions the utility of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and TikToc.

But I do miss letter writing with an actual pen and Monday morning telephone debates with an actual colleague.

It’s not just the loss of adjectives, adverbs and descriptive sentences that light up one’s imagination and emotions. It is throwing away a part of communication that helps us understand each other.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. Email Scott at cscottgraber@gmail.com.