Friday, December 7, 2012

You May Already Be a Luddite

I’ve never liked using the telephone. There’s something rude about making a bell ring in somebody’s house while they’re brushing their teeth or cooking dinner, and then expecting them to drop everything and talk to you about whatever’s on your mind.

But for a long time, phoning people up was my job. All through the 1990s, I worked in advertising sales, which involved spending hours on the phone with my clients, mostly musicians who ran small businesses out of their homes. On many occasions I rang somebody up at the odd hour and caught him eating, or drunk, or cranky from being roused out of a dead sleep (note to self: do not call musicians before noon). And there I was, chirpy-voiced, peppering this poor, half-dressed person with questions about his business plans and advertising dollars. I had to do it—mailing took too long, and there was always a deadline—but all that phone-calling seemed invasive and boorish.

And then came e-mail.

E-mail was like a miracle. Now I could send messages to my clients any time of day, and they could reply with a dignified response when they felt good and ready. It was so polite, so professional, so calming. Soon my friends and family got e-mail, and I loved that too. I could write them little missives in the middle of the night and get notes back from them in the morning. Sometimes the same night! I, a shy person, was becoming almost social.

But now the world has turned to texting. I tried it for a while, but it’s a pain to text on my little flip phone and I’m too cheap to buy a fancier one. And it irks me that texting is once again enslaving us to phones, when I just liberated myself from the damned things. I check my e-mail at work, at home, wherever there’s a computer, and I stay reasonably in touch with the world without having to carry a phone around and risk it ringing in the movie theater or falling in the toilet. But now some of my friends are almost impossible to reach via e-mail; they’re texters, and texts are what they respond to.

And just like that, I’ve been run over by the speeding bus of technology.

So now I’m in a strange vortex where my friends—not cleanly divided by age group—fall into the categories of texters, e-mailers, or phone people. So gathering a tennis group or setting up a writing workshop has become something akin to transferring a file from a PC to a Mac via some old diskette drive: Most of it gets across, but parts of it look funny, and parts of it don’t work. And a subtle pecking order is starting to assert itself: The sleek, on-the-go texters look down a little bit on us Luddite e-mailers with our clunky computers. And to us e-mailers, the phoners seem practically prehistoric, their voices crackling in the receiver like echoes of Alexander Graham Bell himself. And the phoners and texters are so far away from each other that they have to rely on us e-mailers, like some frantic middle sibling, to relay news between them.

I suppose in another 20 years we’ll be using some technology that we don’t even know the name of yet—we’ll all be snizzling or po-topping or gynorming each other to set a coffee date or blast the ex for forgetting to pick up the kid. Perhaps we’ll wistfully look back on these days of texting/e-mailing/phoning as a golden age, a technological Jerusalem where three different pillars of communication all coexisted in a sort of wobbly peace.

But for now, I have e-mails to send. And a message blinking on my answering machine. And I should probably turn on my iChat. And I can’t stop looking at those ads for the Kindle, the Nook, that new thing from Google, and the iPad and iPod Touch and iPhone with all their literal bells and whistles.

But before I do any of that, I need to clear my head. So I’m going to sit down and do a crossword puzzle. On paper. With a pencil. Because I like pencils. They’re so quiet and full of words.

Photo by Takkk

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