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Shannon Casas: Talking, flexing and sparking — this old millennial is trying to keep up
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

I used to hop on my bicycle as a kid, cross a busy road and find my way into a sprawling park with trails and creeks and ballfields.

Riding the dirt trails by myself or with a friend would eventually lead up to the ballfields and concession stand where I sometimes volunteered, selling hot dogs and Big League Chew while my siblings played ball.

In the summer, the building and wide sidewalks would be empty, and the ride back home would feel long. So, I’d use a payphone to call home and see if one of my parents could come pick me up.

I haven’t been to that park in decades, but I bet those payphones aren’t there anymore.

I’m an old millennial, sometimes called a xennial, which means I remember life before everyone had a cellphone, much less a smartphone.

I bet the young millennials I know have never in their lives used a payphone. And they probably wouldn’t have a clue what to do with a rotary phone.

In fact, the whole function of a phone has changed entirely. I don’t want to talk on it. I certainly don’t want to listen to a voicemail. Phones aren’t for talking anymore.

Talking, in fact, means dating. Or so I’ve been told.

I remember talking with a boy when I was about 14. We used a phone — it might have even had a cord on it. We’d talk for a while, then not have anything to say but stay on the phone anyway. And if anyone else needed to call, they got a busy signal.

I don’t think teens talk on the phone anymore, which I guess left the word “talking” up for grabs for a new use. I could say this use of language is absurd, but we called it “going out” when I was a teen. We didn’t actually go out anywhere since most of us didn’t have cars.

Whether we were talking or going out, my grandparents on my mom’s side used to tease me about “sparking” with a boy. That was the word they used for kissing when they were growing up in the 1940s in Arkansas. At least their word made some sense, and it seems to have worked since they’ve been married more than 70 years.

I don’t know how talking is working for these young millennials and Gen Zers. But the way we talk keeps changing, and words are important in my business, so I’m listening. This old millennial doesn’t want to get left behind.

Two guys entered my office last week to ask about a headline using the word “flexing.” I visited Muscle Beach in Miami earlier this year; I thought that was the type of flexing they were talking about. Turns out, it was a play on words, which always makes a better headline.

Flexing, if you don’t know, also means something like showing off. As in Luke Parker, the local contestant on “The Bachelorette,” was flexing on the competition when he told Hannah, spoiler alert, that he was falling in love with her. He did this on their first date in front of a crowd of other guys also on their first date, which certainly made the phrase work. And he did all that shortly after literally flexing his muscles on stage.

I can’t say I’ll be using “flex on” any more than I use the word “bro” in regular conversation — which is never — but at least I can keep up with the conversation.

I can’t keep up with any streaks on Snapchat, though. I understand the concept — it’s basically like hitting a ping-pong ball back and forth, maintaining daily interactions — but I can’t grasp why I’d want to use Snapchat when I could just text.

And if the young millennials want to laugh at my hesitance or ignorance, I’ll just tell them my microgeneration invented “lol.”

Because before there were text messages, there was AOL instant messenger, where lol and ttyl and brb were born.

And before that, there was sparking.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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