I’d like to thank my many readers who so kindly left comments on my recent post, “No Text Please, We’re Parents.”  Many of your comments described technophobic experiences with your own parents.  Quite a few of you agreed with my parents’ objection to texting as “impersonal.”

More than one comment mentioned that text-based messaging is rendering conversation a lost art.  When my parents visited for my birthday last weekend, they agreed, pointing out that abbreviations commonly used in text messages are destroying both written and spoken forms of the English language.  By way of example, my mother stated that it grates on her nerves when even radio personalities say “that’s how they do” (omitting the implied “it”).  My father cited the deplorable spelling and grammar that he regularly sees in email and on websites.

I tried to point out that any language changes and grows over time, adding new words and changing acceptable forms of grammar and spelling.  The English of Chaucer’s fourteenth century works and that of Shakespeare’s early seventeenth century works barely resemble each other, much less modern forms of English.

Every generation seems to bemoan the increasing informality of language embraced by their children.  Slang lingo has been a part of teenage culture since the dawn of time.  Kids seek to separate themselves from their parents by embracing vocabulary and grammar alien to their elders.  There was a time when the words “groovy” and “cool” annoyed adults; when I was growing up, it was considered “hip” to tack the word “man” on to the beginning or end of every sentence.  “What’s up, man?”  “Man, that sucks.”  And then there was the ultimate expression of disgust, disappointment, amazement, sympathy or any other emotion of the moment:  “Maaaaaaaaannnn!”

It’s nothing new for parents to believe that their children are destroying the English language.  And yet English soldiers on.

As for abbreviations, I fail to see much difference between today’s CUL8R or ILY and yesteryear’s SWAK and XYZ (“sealed with a kiss” and “check your zipper”).  And it is easy to forget that keystroke-saving abbreviations were rampant on the internet long before text messaging came into vogue.  When I first got online in the mid-1990s, I had to acculturate myself to a whole lexicon of BRBs, IMHOs and FWIWs.  These have found their way into the spoken language; I’ve heard people say “imho” and I myself have been known to say “bee ar bee!”

It is my belief that text messaging, both the kind on cell phones and the kind on the internet, brings people together rather than separating them.  Any form of language that makes it easier for people to communicate is, in my view, a positive development.

And so, I concluded my recent conversation with my parents by telling a story about some text-based communication that I enjoyed on Friday night.  In my goofy way, I took a photo of my dinner using my cell phone, typed the word “Yum!” and sent it to my nephews and nieces using SnapChat.  Every last one of them responded.  These are young people who won’t bother to call me and, likely as not, won’t answer their phones when I call them.  If I want to have much of a relationship with them, I need to be able to send and receive text and photos.  This is one of the main reasons I procured a cell phone in the first place.  So texting or SnapChatting them is my way of saying “I love you” and “I’m thinking of you.”

My niece’s response to my photo was particularly poignant.  “I love how you randomly Snap me!” was her text response.  We all feel loved when we know we’re thought of, now don’t we?

And if that’s “impersonal,” then I’ll take impersonal any day of the week, man.



SnapChat Moments


So I’m trying to figure out this SnapChat thing.

We downloaded it onto my iPhone on Thursday night after two of my nieces made a casual reference to the app and I demanded to know what I was missing out on.

I had never heard of SnapChat, but you know how it is, technologically challenged Uncle Guac is usually the last one to get jiggy with whatever the kids are into.

Well, today I was perusing The New York Times online and, whadyaknow, there’s an article about how Facebook is no longer the hot stuff it once was and how teenagers seem to be moving off in new directions.  Heading to places like Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, videos on Vine and, you guessed it, SnapChat.

The Times article suggested that Facebook is no longer the crucial social media tool it was just a few years ago, at least partly because it has become so mainstream.  Teens tend to be drawn to apps that are more edgy and have not yet been commandeered by prying parents and their Aunt Rosie.  Another Times article points out that teens, a key social media market, tend to be “fickle” and flock to the latest and the greatest.  Facebook is old hat and (who knows?) could eventually go the way of MySpace.

Just as Zuckerberg created Facebook in a Harvard dorm room, SnapChat came into being as Evan Spiegel’s project in an undergraduate mechanical engineering class at Stanford.  SnapChat gained traction at high schools in Los Angeles, where it became something of a modern-day equivalent of passing notes behind the teacher’s back.  Except you didn’t have to be in the same classroom and you could show off your goofiest face while you were at it.

I am reading that Google offered to acquire SnapChat for the princely sum of three billion dollars and that the Snap turned them down.

Which brings me back to figuring out how to use an app that I had never heard of two days ago.  I have to do this, you know.  I never even had a cell phone until I realized that the only way I’d ever have any hope of keeping up with my far-flung nephews and nieces would be to learn how to text message.

So last night I jumped right in with both feet, hoping my dear ones would not make too much fun of my missteps.  I forgot to check the date on a loaf of French bread I had bought at the supermarket; when I tore off the first chunk, I found that it was stale.  Aha!  A SnapChat moment!  I took a photo of myself looking positively disgusted.  My poor wife was trying not to laugh at me as I turned the phone around and tried not to get my hand in the picture while my index finger estimated the location of the shutter on the other side.  Um, apparently there’s a little camera icon with swivel arrows at the top of the screen that reverses the lens to allow selfies.  Oops.  Suddenly, I feel this small. #uncleisadork

The problem with my disgusted face portrait was that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to add a message to the photo.  I had gotten the Snap part down, but the Chat part continued to elude me.  I pressed whatever buttons I could find to no avail.  So I figured maybe I could write a message on the photo with my finger, just like painting back in kindergarten.  And it worked!  Tracing each letter of “eating stale bread,” my shaky writing even looked like it had been the work of a kindergartener.  But I got the thing sent to one nephew and two nieces, and to me, that was what counted.

A minute later, all three sent back goofy-face photos of their own to indicate that stale bread is indeed pretty gross.  I couldn’t figure out how to save or retrieve their photos, and I could only view them for a few seconds.  If I held my finger down, the “countdown” would start, the photo would appear, and then, bloop!  Disappeared into the stratosphere.

Not long after, my nephew sent me a smiling SnapChat photo of himself behind the wheel.  “Driving home from FoodMaxx.”  Cool!  “See?” I told my wife.  “We’d have no idea what he was doing if not for this thing.”

I know what you’re thinking.  Why do I need to know that my nephew is on the way home from the grocery store?  I suppose I don’t really need to know.  But it’s nice to know that he’s actually buying groceries and has food in his house, which is not something you can automatically count on with this guy.

I snap a smiling photo of my own.  “What’s for dinner?”  Wait a minute, I don’t want to do the finger painting thing again.  How do my nephew and nieces get all this perfect white type overlaid on their photos?  I ask my wife for advice.  “Google it,” she suggests.

Sure enough, Google has all the answers.  Apparently, you have do swipe your finger downward, as if pulling down a keyboard to type.  Not at all intuitive.  But hey, it worked!  Well, sort of.  I have to abbreviate and make my message very short.  Not the easiest thing with my verbose tendencies, but it only takes so many characters.  This is worse than Twitter!

Another photo.  He’s making Hamburger Helper.  I respond with a photo of my popcorn.  He sends back a smiling face of approval.  I assume a pensive pose in the manner of Rodin’s “The Thinker” and express a very truncated wish that I had a good movie to go with my popcorn.

And then this morning, my nephew is at work and SnapChats me his bemused face in regard to the fact that there is some type of anime event going on in the breakroom.  Later, my niece sends a photo of her sandwich and fries at a local restaurant.  I reciprocate with a photo of the batch of guacamole I just finished making.  And so it goes.

On Thursday, when I first downloaded this app, my 17 year old niece grabbed my phone and created a SnapChat handle for me.  I have been dubbed “unclecool59.”  You have no idea of the extent to which I am blushing to even type this.  At least now I could show you if I wanted to.  But first I’d have to access My Friends and add a couple hundred of you.

You wanna?

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Just Another Thursday in Paradise


November sunset, northern California

My little grandniece is dancing around the living room to Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” on my wife’s iPhone.  Her mother is dancing next to her, but to a completely different song on her own phone over her ear buds.  As she sings along, I am introduced to Andy Mineo’s “In My City.”  Then she asks me about “Black Velvet” and “The Wanderer” and I explain that the currently popular versions are remakes from back in my era.

What a wonderful evening after a full day.

Our homeless friend came by this morning and Pastor Mom served him toast, sausage and coffee for breakfast.  His timing was good:  We were all just sitting around waiting for the exterminator to get here.  Ants, spiders, centipedes — we’ve got ‘em all.  The critters just love visiting us.

We hadn’t eaten yet, as our plan was for all of us to go out to breakfast with my niece and her baby when the bug man arrived.  We were told that we had to be out of the house for three hours after he sprayed.  Denny’s, here we come.  (We appreciate the 20% off coupons they email us periodically.)

Our friend has connected with an organization that helps hire ex-cons, so he’s trying to clear up a parole violation and scrape up enough money for a cell phone and a bicycle to allow him to apply for a job and, once hired, to get there.  We are hoping that perhaps we will be able to help him in his quest to get back on his feet, even if only by providing encouragement (and the occasional bag of snacks).

“Let’s see what I can find to do today,” he remarked to himself as he left.

I noticed a big black trash bag sitting on one of the old pews outside the church door.  It turns out that our friend had left his sleeping bag, some clothes and his wet socks in the church bathroom (he had probably washed them out in the sink).  As the exterminators would be spraying in there as well, Pastor Mom put everything in the trash bag and removed them to the pew.  If it rains, at least his sleeping bag won’t get wet.

At breakfast, I was so pleased that my niece was willing to talk a bit about her experience as a first-semester college student.  She is having a very hard time in math and, despite my efforts to assist, believes she is unlikely to pass.  I reminded her that she can always take it again.

Goodness, it seems that all of us need a shot of encouragement, from a struggling homeless guy to a struggling college student with a baby.  All of us are struggling with something.  Remember, a kind word costs nothing and goes a long way.

My niece decided she doesn’t want to go into nursing after all.  She doesn’t know what direction she wants her career to take.  Take your time, I recommended.  That’s what college is all about, an opportunity to try out all different subjects and find out what you fancy.

But she’s worried about her financial aid situation and how many years it will take her to earn a degree at this rate.  Take your time and do it at your own pace, I recommended.  I am so proud of her for giving it a go.

We couldn’t return to the parsonage with the baby due to the insect spraying.  My grandniece, age one, was wearing a heart monitor today.  She has been dealing with heart problems since the day she was born, but they are improving and she has been able to get off her meds.  The cardiologist has to keep checking, though.  Later, we’ll remove the electrodes from her little chest and bring the monitor back to the cardio place to be read.

But for now, we are killing time.  My wife’s sinuses are really bothering her, so we head over to my sister-in-law’s house so that she and my grandniece can take a nap.  While the house is quiet and my niece is off at classes, I take the opportunity to tell Pastor Mom all about my recent experiences with WordPress, the wonderful people whose acquaintances I have made in this medium, and my hopes to improve my writing.

Pastor Mom’s cell phone rings periodically.  A parishioner calls to report that her daughter is doing worse; her heart problems have put her in intensive care.  An elderly friend living out of the country calls to say that she is being abused by her son.  Then it’s a guy who will come over to look at the roof of the church social hall.  It’s not in good shape and may need to be replaced.  If the funds to pay for it can be found, that is.

Done with school for the day, my niece returns and we all head over to the parsonage to begin preparing dinner.  My niece wants to use her nana’s computer to work on a term paper.  The rest of us will take care of the baby for a bit.  While the others are eating steak tacos, the little one is sharing my veggie burgers, potato and broccoli, cut up in tiny pieces.  She seems to like my veggie food well enough.

In the kitchen, my niece moves on to another Andy Mineo tune, “Death Has Died.”  She belts it out with passion, laughing when she forgets some of the song’s many rap lyrics.  “Breakin’ down, breakin’ down, everything here is breaking down…”  References to the Sandy Hook massacre.  26 dead, 20 of them kids.  “You used to make me cry, but one day He’ll wipe every tear from our eyes.”  My talented niece raps away as the lyrics claw at my heart.

In the background, Steve Miller continues wailing “I wanna reach out and grab ya” from the living room.  My wife’s now abandoned phone has been repeating the song over and over.

Another niece calls on Face Time so that she can interact with my grandniece for a while.  The little one grabs the phone and dances over the kitchen tiles, grooving to the music and more or less ignoring my niece’s face.  The little one’s mother gets on the phone and I catch snatches of references to SnapChat and Instagram.  This is a foreign language to Uncle Guac, so I ask for an explanation.  Before I know it, both apps are loaded onto my phone.  Selfies, here I come!  My nieces, the one in the kitchen and the one whose face is on the phone, laugh at my use of the word “selfies.”  Thank you for keeping me current, Le Clown.  I owe you, dude!

We move into the living room, where the music and dancing makes me smile.  My sister-in-law comes by for a few minutes after her long commute from work.  She grabs hold of her daughter and they waltz around the room to the music.  Then my nephew comes by, grabs some of our leftovers, and spends time playing with the baby.  You can see how much she misses him.  He had been her day care provider for months until he got a new job and my wife took over those duties.

The little one has discovered a new game.  These are the rules:  Baby pulls the headphones out of Uncle’s laptop audio jack and begins sucking on it.  Uncle removes it from baby’s mouth and replaces it in the computer.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat 20 more times.

My grandniece has pulled out all of her toys and has them spread out on the carpet.  But she throws all her cars, dolls and musical toys aside.  What she really wants to play with is a lavender plastic colander from the kitchen.

The little bug is up and down off the couch, receiving attention from each of us.  She is an equal opportunity cuddler.  And she has a boundless supply of energy.  My niece and nephew begin duetting on a popular song that I have never heard of.

My nephew tells us that he’d really like to get out of California.  I tell him that I fully sympathize.  How I’d love to return to New England.  “But you know what?” I add.  “My family is in California, so I am, too.”

And it’s true.  For just at this moment, I know I wouldn’t trade being here for anything in the world.

It’s late in the evening.  My niece and grandniece have zonked out.  My nephew has gone home.  As I prepare to lock the doors, I step out into the cool night air.

And I see that our homeless friend’s black, stuffed-full trash bag is still sitting out on the pew.  I check the church bathroom, but he is nowhere to be found.


>NaBloPoMo November 2013