I was talking to an associate of mine on my cellphone the other day and at the conclusion of our conversation (it took me, by the way, six calls to get past her Voicemail) I said something like, "Okay, good. I'll email all the info right away." Her response: "Could you just text me? I'm getting inundated with emails."
"Sure," I chirped, and we said goodbye. And then I just had to chuckle. Wow. Now our email is getting to be too much to deal with? So we're going to move even our important business communications to phone-texts?
When I was a teenager all of my communication was in person or by table-top phone. And if the person wasn't there or available to the phone when I called, I took it in stride that I just "missed them" and would have to call back later. (Can you imagine that?)
Then this remarkable device called an "answering machine" came along, and it no longer mattered whether my call was answered on-the-spot or not. I could always leave a message--and expect them to respond to it. This was a radical new device that changed everything.
Later, when I was a young man starting out in my career (in communications, ironically), we told each other what we needed to communicate in person, by telephone (sometimes on the message machine) or--if it was a lengthy communication involving, perhaps, some documentation--by something called "mail."
(This was a way to distribute documents, and sometimes even handwritten communications--believe it or not, people actually wrote things by hand using a fluid kind of connected lettering termed cursive--to be delivered by a person who would actually come right to your doorstep and put it into a small metal container just outside your house.)
As I moved deeper into my adult years, packages continued to be delivered to my door, but documents often came to me by means of a new-fangled gizmo called a "fax." (That stood for "facsimile transmission.") And we still had telephones on our desks and in our homes, of course.
Then, in my mid-years, personal computers came along (I know it's hard to fathom, but I did my early writing as a newspaper reporter on a clattering mechanical contraption called a typewriter) and soon, what seemed like everyone in the land had a computer in their home, with a few communications moving through what was called electronic mail. (Soon shortened to e-mail, then just "email," without that annoying hyphen.)
As well in my mid-years, what were called "portable phones" appeared. They were nearly as big as a half loaf of bread, but they were portable. And they got smaller and smaller, changed their name to "cellphones", and you were expected to answer them everywhere, all the time. If you did not, your called wanted to know the reason why.
Within a breath of all this happening, just about everyone moved to a laptop, and you were expected to carry it most everywhere you went, and work on it most everywhere you were, from trains to airplanes to hotel lobbies to coffee shops.
With laptop computers the use of email exploded, and it has now become the preferred way to communicate just about everything. It doesn't matter how personal the communication (birth announcements, wedding invitations, holiday greetings, thank you notes, termination notices, sympathy cards, Our Relationship Is Over letters), it is now de rigueur to send it electronically. And, of course, all business communication.
Our email boxes are now cluttered. And not just with spam, but with actually, really and truly important messages. So much so that we shutter to even open our mid-morning email--much less look at what has accumulated by the end of the day.
So it's come to this: "My email is too much for me to deal with anymore. Could you just text me?"
Now we're sitting around punching out with our thumbs (or, for old folks like me, hunt-and-pecking with our forefinger) a three-paragraph message (because really, honestly, I had more to get across than I can put into 30 characters).
It used to be you went to bed with a loving partner if your life was wonderful, and often as well, with a good paperback--or at least one or the other. Now you catch yourself with your head on the pillow and a hand-held device that does everything a laptop does, and you're holding it before your dimming eyes, making sure that you're all caught up on anything and everything happening on your Facebook page, and that you've made end-of-the-day checks of your texts and emails to make sure that nobody needs anything from you before you turn the light outs.
We never said this much to each other when I was 20 years old. You could combine a week's worth of in-person conversations, phone exchanges, and all the stuff that came in the mail and not come up with the volume of communication that takes place by email, cell phone, and text in 48 hours these days.
What's up with all this communication?
And how long will it be before the texts on our handheld are so frequent and have become so long that we have to say, "Hey, my cell phone never stops ringing no matter where I am or what I'm doing, my email is too cluttered, my text window has something in it constantly...so just send me letter. You know what I mean?
"It's spelled l-e-t-t-e-r. People call it 'snail mail.' If I have a chance in the couple of days after I receive it, I'll read it. Can we get back to normal here? Oh...oh, that's right. That was 50 years ago. That was in the Olden Days, when we weren't communicating a mile-a-minute, every hour of the day.
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