Texts, phone calls, video chats and, to a large extent email, are ephemeral. My sister was going through some papers recently and found the telegram my grandmother sent telling my grandfather that mom was born, he was in the service in the South Pacific at the time. Today that communication would have been an email, text, phone call or video chat…and we wouldn’t be coming across it 70 years later. We have both gained and lost something in those 70 years.
Telegrams were the original text messages and, since every word cost dearly, people cut to the chase. But they differed from texts in that they had a physical product that was something precious to save and cherish.
Then the telephone came along. That added two aspects to communications: It was still only words but, depending on the quality of the line, you could hear tone of voice, and you could respond immediately. The communication became the creation of two people interacting. A pas-de-deux, not a solo. And ephemeral, just the memories of the two in the conversation shifting and changing with time.
When I was growing up we were on a party line. There was an etiquette: we kids were always told to keep it to the minimum so we didn’t tie up the line, no chit chat. My regular Saturday morning phone call, at 10:01 because it wasn’t polite to call before that, was “can Kim come and play?” My husband asked me for Kim’s mother’s phone number a while ago and it rolled off my tongue like it was yesterday, actually it was a whole bunch of yesterdays.
We were also taught to not say anything much because a neighbor could pick up at any time and hear what you were saying. Calling Dad at work was long distance and only to be done in cases of emergency.
To this day I do not like to talk on the phone. I think some of it is due to my early training that phones are for emergencies and expensive to use, keep it short and don’t say much. But, lately, I have been pondering whether some of it is because when I talk on the phone the other person takes over the conversation and, between being quicker with words and biased in hearing morphs my message into something that isn’t what I want to say.
I really like email: I can write a draft, hone the words, and add a strategic photo here and there. I can take my time and send the message whenever and it will not interrupt the receiver, who can read and respond in her/his own time. Like an old fashioned letter with a quicker delivery system.
But an interesting phenomena has happened: people no longer read. They scan. I noticed this a little over ten years ago when communicating with folks in my son’s Boy Scout Troop and at church, most people are functionally illiterate. They can read, but they do not. At least not the longish, and, I like to think, well-crafted compositions that I wrote.
I think this is because of busyness combined with information overload: there is so much information available to us that we have to screen for what is actually relevant to us in accomplishing the current task. We no longer have time to delight in clever ways of putting things or to savor beautiful wordings that come to life in our imaginations. I think this is why we have moved to the tweet and text message. People are possibly reading more now than ever, but in short bursts.
I do not have a smart phone. Texting is painful for me. Being near sighted, I either have to take my seeing glasses off, or find reading glasses, to read the little buggers. Then I painstakingly push the dinky little buttons to respond. Since I am unfamiliar with the jargon, I type full words and use proper punctuation.
Both of my sisters have smart phones and prefer texting over talking (this is really great most of the time). They often send two or three texts while I am still responding to the first one. Then my phone’s memory gets full and I can’t receive any more messages in the middle of a “conversation”, so I delete all of the texts since I do not have time to go through and figure out which are important.
So, with a few pushes of a tiny button, out go the treasures along with the trash.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “It’s a Text, Text, Text, Text World.”
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ephemeral.”