A little while ago I got a call from an old boyhood friend out in Arizona. I am on holiday in Florida from my home in Maine. His first words to me were, “Well, I see the phone lines still reach you”. We can both remember when the telephone first came to our town, so we are liable to use terms like “phone lines” even though we only communicate over cellular networks or via email. Occasionally we text. Neither of us have a real “phone line”.

It was good to hear his voice. He sounds exactly the way he did in high school. Even as we spoke about what was going on in our lives, I was aware of a quiet sense of comfort not unlike the feeling of home. That’s the way it is with old friends.

It was the voice, of course. I’m in touch with a few people through several channels – email, social networks, texting and a couple of blogs – none of which carries the level of intimacy that the voice does. Hearing Bill’s voice conjured up memories and feelings no electronic avenue of communicating could ever do. Well, ever do yet, I guess I should say. I’ve seen too many “unlikely” things come to pass to think something is impossible.

The voice carries with it emotion and meaning that is not expressed directly. It is through the nuance of inflection, the power of pauses and the subtile emphasis in tone and volume that the voice imparts its power. It’s what we remember of those we love.

Digital communication has it’s own kind of power, specially that which allows us to say it and go on about our lives before a response is made. We are able to edit our words and thoughts before we “say” them. But the creative discovery inherent in a live conversation it lost in that process.

Bill, who called me earlier, and I went our separate ways out of high school. We had not been in touch in 50 years. Real life is like that sometimes. Then, late one night a few years ago, as I was at my computer, my land line phone rang. I said hello. Then this voice that I had not heard for a lifetime came over the line with a question about the time for our softball practice and I knew at once who it was. We talk regularly now and see each other a couple of times a year.

It was the voice that carried all that meaning and identity. I hope we don’t loose that in the rush to digitize life. The voice: it’s part of what is unique about us.

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