In the nineteenth century, telegraph lines were painstakingly strung across the United States and in 1861 a link was completed from east to west, enabling instant communication between individuals across the country. It was an amazing achievement, bringing an end to the Pony Express. Of course, most people didn’t have personal access to telegraph, and few knew Morse Code, and so people still wrote and mailed letters.
In the first half of the twentieth century, telephone use exploded. Now people could communicate with loved ones, thousands of miles away, actually hearing their voices and carry on a normal conversation! In the early 1980’s, a new breakthrough occured – cell phones! Want to see what the early ones looked like? Go rent the first “Lethal Weapon” movie. You’ll see Danny Glover sitting outside, ranting to his superior at the Police station. He’s complaining about what a hot headed crazy Mel Gibson is. Apparently Danny knew this before the rest of us, but I digress. Danny’s character (Murtagh) was talking on a state of the art cell phone! It had an old fashioned hand held receiver, attached by a cord to a box that was the size of one of our present day desktop printers. But at the time, it was way cool!
Cell phones have come a long way since then. They have surpassed even the style of the handheld flip communicators that Captain Kirk had on the old Star Trek show. “Captain, need to dispatch some Romulans? There’s an app for that, here’s an Iphone!”
And then of course, email. No one mails letters anymore, we send emails, by the thousands. For crying out loud, we take pictures, with our phones, and email them to our friends, from thousands of miles away! Think about that…it is amazing.
But somewhere, on this slippery slope of communication, I fear we have lost our way. Often, the means of communication that is more precise, is set aside in favor of other means, more cool or convenient. Yesterday, I sent an email to my boss. She’s a bright lady, and I figure that I’m not bad at communicating. But, she misunderstood my email. I sent another, to clarify. She misunderstood, and was now alarmed. What to do? Was she in an office across the country, or across town? No, she was 200 feet away. I could have called her on the phone, but I made the bold decision to walk down to her office and talk to her. Problem solved in 30 seconds.
I realize that sometimes we text nearby people because we need discretion, but I sometime see family members sitting in my living room, with no one else around, texting each other. Think about that. You could open your mouth and speak, but instead, you type words on to your phone screen, and hit send. Your phone sends your message to a satellite in space. The message is then sent back down, to the person sitting ten feet away from you. Absurd, ludicrous. Is it really still that cool, that much of a novelty? If I want to talk to my eighteen year old, I have to text him, he won’t answer his phone.
I recently saw a cartoon, a picture of a child sitting on his mother’s lap. They were looking at a message on her cell phone: “How R U 2 day?” He was struggling to read it. Her response – “Sound it out, honey.”
We’re loosing clarity for convenience. And now, we’ve taken yet another step in that direction. Now, we tweet: one hundred and forty character snippets. For the sake of survival as a writer, I know I have to embrace this. But it annoys me. Perhaps it’s making us more succinct, I would like to hope so. But at the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I dare to ask, what comes after Twitter? Will we be sending a series of emoticons? Think about that one. Sounds a little bit like hieroglyphics to me. And that doesn’t seem like the future of communications.