September 27, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Reaching out

By |2018-03-21T20:00:14+01:00May 15th, 2016|Area 51|
Talk to me about reaching out.

he last time I reached out was to touch someone. This meant moving my arms at the same time so they eventually formed an affectionately encircling O around the person before me. The person squeezed as a result was pleased. She’d not only been actually reached out to but also hugged.

In the late 1980s, the American communications company AT&T launched a marketing slogan encouraging people to make more phone calls that went “Reach out and touch someone.” Its writers had no idea they’d laid a slow-to-hatch reptile egg. But now it’s present and prowling, a carnivorous iguana.

No one calls me anymore. They reach out. No one writes to me any more. They reach out. No one speaks to me, or gestures at me, or shouts at me, or even winks at me, ever. No. They’re all just reaching out. What they touch, or even if they touch, is anyone’s guess. Maybe AT&T knows, though they’re probably too busy tinkering with android technology to respond, unless maybe you reach out to them on another platform. Maybe from an oilrig or from the top of a construction site grid, which was once where most platforms resided.

In any event, I continue waiting around day after day in the unlikely event someone might actually do something other than reach out — tell me they’d tried to call, to write, to speak, to inform, to whisper, to hiss, to murmur, to yelp, to distract, to wave, to get my attention in one of the many ways that once had a specific contour that the blunting act reaching out has dulled.

All communication, whether with a dog or government, is invariably explained in the same way: “I tried reaching out…” But a dog prefers petting, which is pleasantly specific to its fur, while governments usually respond to protests or challenges or strikes or, on a good day, even articulate personal pleas.

So what’s wrong, you ask, with reaching out as a verbal coverall for any and all forms of human announcement? Nothing per se, aside from canceling out the (often sexy) specifics of any given means of communication. We admittedly live in increasingly unspecific times, one in which all manner of gender bumps around in the night and unisex clothing suits neutered language. Mankind’s articulation now makes its happy way into a blender-turned-slaughterhouse that cheerfully misplaces the meaning of any difference between a whisper and a murmur. Why not just, “I think that old guy over there just tried to reach out to me”? But what if the true intent of the old guy was to whisper, so no one heard, or to murmur, so as to understate his desire?

And what happens after many but never-specified reaching out efforts fail? Does someone actually formulate sentences? Do they one-up a text message and really call? Do they finally come over? Do they set aside the approximate and lazy act of reaching out and begin the encircling process that ends with the big O and a hug?

I hope so. I truly do. I for one — and not for all or for multiples of me — resist reaching out or being reached out to. I prefer those who write to me, who speak to me, who try to get to know me through (unabbreviated) words and are willing to produce whole sentences to prove it, daring to overreach the limits of new, vague contact being foisted on them like a straitjacket.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.