Sunday, January 26, 2014

Old Media to New

The future is rarely as those in the past pictured it. We do not fly about in dirigibles or heli-cars; our school-age children don't take field trips to Mars, and those loose-fitting glittery pant-suits that the people of the future wore in old science fiction films never really came into fashion. In fact, one could say that most of us here in the twenty-first century are, in many areas of our lives, still using things invented in the nineteenth century: the internal combustion engines in our cars, the gas furnaces that heat our homes, the machine-woven cotton shirts we wear, the pencils and ball-point-pens we write with, and the fax machines in our offices.

And we still write letters, at least, though not quite the way we used to. Over his lifetime, the novelist Charles Dickens penned 14,252 letters -- probably more, since that's just the number that have survived to this day. Had he not died at the relatively young age of 58, he would have doubtless written thousands more. He was hardly alone; many other nineteenth-century writers were equally active, as were a great many ordinary people in various walks of life. Nowadays, though we may still send a great many brief e-mails, or text- or voice-messages, it's rare for most of us to send a "letter"of any length, let along the enormous missive sent by C. Morton Morse of Portland Oregon in 1911. That letter, claimed at the time to be the longest ever composed, contained more than 32,000 words and was written on a continuous roll of paper 72 feet long.

The telephone, which after the personal letter has a fair claim to be the oldest still commonly-used means of interpersonal communication today, may still be with us, but its usage has changed dramatically. The phone itself has gone from being a household appliance to something carried in one's pocket, and live voice communication may be its least common use. Many people rarely answer theirs, relying on voicemail to retain anything important, or screening their calls with custom ringtones. And, in the business world, it's rare to initiate communication by phone -- in one office, an employee was heard to complain that a coworker should have e-mailed in advance if he planned to call!

The great dream of 1950's and 1960's Sci-Fi -- the video phone -- is now a reality via Skype, although ironically enough, there is no phone, and (unlike the famous scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey) no toll for most of these calls (although $1.70 isn't too bad for a minute-long call from outer space).

So how much do you use these "old" media means of "reaching out to touch someone" (as the Bell System phone advertisement used to put it)? Do you often talk with friends on the phone for more than a minute or two? Do you Skype? And if so, how often? And when was the last time you literally sat down and wrote a letter to a friend or family member on a piece of paper?


  1. I generally don't like answering the phone unless it's a close friend or family. Most times I feel like unless it's a long story, what can't be said via text? Talking on the phone can become awkward unless the person on the other line and yourself have a lot of things to talk about. You can't just walk away from a phone call once the conversation goes stale for you, unless you just hang up but that's rude. I definitely get more said via text than the phone, but it is a nice thing to be on every once an a while. Telemarketers have ruined house lines for me, though.

    As far as the letter goes, I like them. I wish more people would send me letters. I know they aren't the fastest way to get communication across but there's something personal about knowing that the person took the time to write the letter as well as put it in an envelope and get a stamp to mail it to you. I like writing letters for that personal value as well. I think that it's a thing of the past, but something still worth doing.

    Finally, I like video web-chatting. It's something a little more personal than a phone call or text because you can see the person talking to you. It helps make it less awkward because you're not just talking into a piece of plastic, you're talking to a face.

  2. I feel as though the more accessible it is for people to communicate via writing, typing, or even just little emoticons or buttons on a server, the more we desensitize the need for human contact. Hearing someone's voice is personal and essential! Of course it depends on the person, but sometimes I'll spend a good hour sometimes hour and a half talking to a friend on the phone. I have way too many friends nowadays that are too afraid to order a pizza on the phone… so Domino's, responding to this demographic of lazy, anti-social individuals decided to create the "Pizza Tracker" so that people– like my friends (I won't mention any names in particular) can order, pay for, and even personalize their pizza delivery entirely on the internet. I use my fair share of emoticons, but I would never let it completely strip away proper communication skills.