Back in the day, when a phone rang, someone would have to answer, and the identity of the caller was unknown, so there was an element of mystery to a call. “Is it my mother? That person I’m trying to cut from my life because they’re so annoying? Is it that bastard calling to say it wasn’t what it looked like?” Now, we can communicate with anyone, anywhere, in virtually any form we choose. Remember letters? I don’t either, as that was far before my day, but I can email my professor, my sister and a classmate in three minutes.
Naturally, most of us have been swept away by touchscreen phones, Voxer, Twitter, texting and Facebook. We were, and continue to be, awed by their speed, versatility and appearance. Overwhelmed with enthusiasm and curiosity, we march to the stores, and like children excitedly skipping off to their first day of school, we haven’t anticipated the changes this new journey will ravage upon us.
We are treading an unpaved path with a hornet’s nest of surprises, but I suppose every generation must contemplate the consequences of the “new.” Certainly, writers, theologians and students must have debated the mass production and everyday use of the telephone. A machine that killed the “home visit” filled with tea, lemonade and cookies (ok, maybe that’s too Beaver Cleaver). The television is still being blamed for dumbing down American society, and modern technology is continually bringing wave after wave of new options for us to communicate, with, each option briefer than the next.
Some believe we are forgetting the essence of communication. Sherry Turkle, professor of the social studies of science and technology at MIT, stated in an NPR article, “We’re truncating our communications, making them briefer, and briefer, where sometimes we’re willing to sacrifice conversation for connection.”
Connection, rather than communication, seems to be the voice of the present generations. We need to be liked, befriended and heard; none of which requires a deep conversation. I can write “Fuck Capitalism” and sure to get a few thumbs up, or write “Screw Global Warming” and have someone befriend me. The thoughts and the person behind the words hold little value, since there is no time left to be so inquisitive.
We no longer have to sit away seconds with conversations filled with awkward silences. We don’t suffer the annoyance and inconvenience of actually befriending someone; we simply click FRIEND. We have been given an air horn to announce our every pleasure and tragedy — much in the way aristocratic society had their servants trumpet their guests’ arrival.
On the surface, these programs and technologies have simplified daily by removing the annoyances and discomforts of life. This seems like a win-win, but perhaps we have been too concerned with our surfaces and ignored the necessity and beauty of wasted time, awkward conversations and pesky annoyances.
Subtleness dies first. You text a joking response thinking it was hilarious, but it actually invoked dead silence. Yet, you won’t see the disgusted or offended expression. You can’t see your mother’s sad eyes when you don’t pick up, or the disappointed look on your friend’s face when you bail out on him/her with a text, such as “Sorry cant make it.”
Turkle says it best. “In other words, that sense that someone is waiting for him, that there’s expectations, that there’s human desire and expectation here … that’s what we’re getting out of.” Disappointment and anger are the normalcies we are so readily trying to evade.
So it appears that the easiest path tempts us with its simplicity. We don’t have to put much effort in or suffer from wasted time. We can click, type and send, but these supposed trivialities we are throwing away are actually the backbone of communication. So our endeavor for convenience has mechanized human interaction, but hopefully, we’re learning that only a computer’s habits can be simplified.
Nidia Sandoval is a fourth-year history major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.