Tuesday, September 27, 2011
That’s not a typo. The title for this blog really is “K”. “K” stands for just how many shortcuts we take in 2011. “K” is what I received on my cell phone, continually, this summer. “K” is short for OK, which is short for O.K., which is short for that obviously too-long-to-deal-with word: okay.
The first time I received a “letter” as an answer on my phone I thought it was a mistake. The friend that sent this message must have let it go too soon—not finishing whatever it was that she wanted to say. But then I received the same message from another friend. And soon enough I realized that “K” has become an acceptable form of confirmation.
The ever apparent, inverse relationship between rapid communication and meaningful conversation is troublesome. In an ironic fashion modern technology has enabled the streamlining of life to the point where a one word, or even--dare I say it--"one letter," exchange, can count as a full-blown conversation. I discovered this phenomenon this past summer when I received my son's cell phone bill. There were an inordinate number of text messages. The Verizon customer service operator explained that he was sending almost one hundred a day. 100! I was amazed that Noah had that much to say considering that I’m lucky to have a handful of words come my way. When I asked him about this apparently astounding "gift of gab" he explained that most of his texts were only one word.
That's it. We've managed to whittle down the English language to the point where one word--and in some cases, one letter-- counts as a bona fide response; a full-fledged side of a conversation.
I’m having difficulty swallowing this new indicator of how far we’re willing to go to hurry things along—keep things moving—get on with it. How much more quickly do we want life to go? As it is, things speed along whether we like it or not. Although as a teenager I was champing at the bit, eager to move on—right now I’d just as soon slam on the brakes. Modern technology is bound and determined to keep things moving at an ever-increasing pace. Where once this primarily affected transportation, helping us get places faster--in more efficient ways; now it's mostly about communication. Although I'll never be able to stem this particular tide, I don't have to like it. Maybe it's time to pause and question whether this is a good thing and whether it's something that we need to buy into and swallow whole.
New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Runni recently addressed another one of the pitfalls of the explosion in technological development; explaining that the existence of multiple means of communication has actually complicated our lives, maybe even slowing them down, by demanding that we know something that should be obvious: "how" people want to be reached. In short, since personal communication preferences can determine accessibility, we need to know each individual's preferences in order to actually contact them; to know whether they check their answering service or prefer incessant redials, prefer text messages, emails or messages posted directly to their social network. Ironically, the exhausting effort required to negotiate how to best reach another party in some cases can actually deter communication! For example, by the time I recall which friend prefers to be contacted via text, which through the phone and which through email I have little desire to actually bother with the conversation!! Sometimes I just swallow whatever I wanted to say and move on—figuring that one less comment or update won't make a difference and simply exhausted by the thought of the whole process!
Modern technological development has somehow managed to complicate what should be the simplest of tasks. Whatever happened to the basic concept: “Reach out and touch someone"? Does anyone even remember that ad? Looking for a creative way to soften the image of AT & T, emphasizing the phone company’s indispensable role in everyday American life, Ayer Advertising agency came up with that now famous tagline in 1979. At the time, no one could imagine life without Ma Bell. How amazing in light of the fact that since then, many other communication giants have risen and fallen (think Sprint) and the all-powerful home telephone, so impressively invented by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, has lost its allure. In my house, for example, absolutely no one answers the phone. It rings, and rings and rings--and not one of my children move. They're all aware that if someone really wanted to contact them they would have already sent them a message through the computer or via their cell phone. How different from my youth, when I raced to the phone at the first ring, hoping it would be for me!
The multiplication of the means by which we communicate with others, most of them requiring neither physical contact, neither full sentences nor an actual voice, has virtually killed human communication—that formerly intrinsic part of existence! It is definitely responsible for our general disinterest in actually "speaking" with someone. After all, electronic forms of communication take so much less energy and guarantee us time to formulate an appropriate reply! But I for one don't think we should be so quick as to call this progress. In fact, the repercussions of the degradation of communication caused by these so-called "developments," for this next generation (to which I've contributed three young souls) are frightening. I don’t relish the idea of their living in a world where one letter stands for a response. In fact, I’ve seen the rendition of this abbreviated form of written communication in their actual, “in person,” conversations and it goes beyond disheartening—all the way to depressing.
Maybe it's time for a wakeup call. Take a look at one of those original AT & T ads. Then, in honor of the Jewish New Year, reassess who matters most, reach out and touch them.