Just in the span of my own lifetime, I’ve witnessed an explosion in the number of ways that we can communicate with each other. As a result, we’ve been able to connect more quickly and over longer distances. Or not connect at all.
Here’s what I mean. There was an instance several years ago where a group of us from work arranged to meet for dinner to entertain a colleague who was visiting from out of town. I arrived at the restaurant at the appointed time to find my group seated around the table—finishing their dessert. The only thing I was in time for was to pick up the check. My first thought was about how my coworkers had just set a new low for office tomfoolery, until the person who’d set up the dinner explained that our out-of-town colleague had a schedule conflict and the reservation time had to be moved up.
“Didn’t you get my text?” he asked me.
I didn’t know how to tell him, in any language that would be remotely considered professional, that I didn’t at the time even own a cell phone.
So while many people these days feel like all these modern, so-called “advances” have connected them more closely, I, for one, am feeling increasingly isolated.
I have a hard enough time remembering who to contact in what way. Some of my friends prefer that I leave a voice mail. With others, I get the annoying message, “You have reached a mailbox that has not been set up.” Others like to communicate exclusively by e-mail, and then there are those who haven’t checked their inboxes since the Clinton administration. Imagine how many generous offers from rich Nigerians those people have missed out on over the years, or how much cheap Viagra they could have scored. And don’t even get me started about the ones who only want to you to chat with them over Facebook Messenger.
I see only two possible ways to manage this problem of who to contact how. Either the number of communication options has to go down, or I will have to have fewer friends. And since the former possibility is about as likely to happen as Lady Yankee never again misplacing her keys, I may just have to join a monastery.
I pine for the days of yore when there were only a handful of ways to communicate with somebody. I think that the Native Americans had it best in the time before the Europeans came over and took everything they had, forcing them into the casino business so they could slowly get it all back quarter by quarter.
In those days, they had only two ways to communicate. They could either do a face-to-face powwow or send smoke signals to each other. The latter was actually the first recorded historical instance of social networking. Smoke signals are much like tweets or Facebook posts in that when you put them out, the whole world can see them. And like tweets, they weren’t without their problems. In one instance, a decades-long tribal war got ignited (no pun intended) when the wife of one chief burned the elk she was roasting over an open fire, which in turn sent out a smoke signal that a rival chief interpreted as a profanity directed at his mother. Our new president might be wise to take a note from history.
I’m sure that I’m not the only person today who’s totally befuddled with all these options for modern communication. If you feel the same way, I’d love to hear from you. My preferred method is voice mail, once I get around to setting it up.
And for the record, I now accept dinner invitations by text.