I’ve watched in amazement over the years of how the pendulum of communication continues to swing. Long before I was born, before Alexander Graham Bell invented that way to throw your voice across the miles with the telephone, people either spoke face to face or wrote a letter in order to communicate. Even after the telephone hung on the hallway wall, it really was only convenient locally – far too expensive to call “long distance” (we don’t even talk that way anymore), as each minute racked up a larger and larger monthly bill. Still, funded mostly I would guess by the lovesick, lonely couples who lived far apart, and “just HAD” to hear each other’s voice, we learned to talk face to face without being face to face.
Then, somehow, the pendulum flipped to the other side, and (mostly young) people began to use the internet and computers to communicate – really, by writing letters again, in the form of emails, which could fly far more quickly than the stamp on a letter, and so communication became more compressed. Quickly, on the heels of that innovation, other ways of “chatting” took the fore. I remember when Aaron was in 7th grade, he would spend hours on the computer downstairs, madly typing and pausing, and then typing again. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, “I’m talking with my friends…” even though he didn’t say a word. Instant messaging, and other technologies made communication fly faster than the old email. Still, to the consternation of teenagers everywhere, parents would actually “call” them on the cell phone to ask a question. Even today, when our two sons are sort of grown men, they hate to “talk” to us, phone to phone.
The pendulum continued its swing in one direction, as “the text” came into use. Basically another form of instant messaging, it carried with it the ability to share thoughts, feelings, information, jokes, inside jokes and more with a couple of taps on the keyboard of your cell phone. An entirely different language, rooted in collapsing actual words or phrases into just a couple of letters has become a truly strange and eerie way of “talking.” Lol – laughing out loud, OMG – Oh my goodness (I choose not to take the Lord’s name in vain), and many more that I won’t repeat, since some carry with them a strong helping of vulgarity or simple rudeness – It’s all part of how we share our lives with each other.
We’ve of course lost a number of things that were once part of normal life. We rarely “call” each other, which originated in picking up the phone and either asking the operator to connect us, or to make the phone ring a certain pattern of rings to connect. We then “dialed” – which meant using a dial. We moved the phone from the wall to the end table, and then finally to a wireless set of instruments that could be strewn across the house.
Now, many homes have given up a “landline,” and just use their cell phones. And the cell phones appear to be less and less used for actually talking, and instead take pictures, send pictures or videos, and of course, give most of America either hunched over postures, or frequent car accidents because people can possibly stand NOT to be texting at each moment of their existence…we text and twitter and Instagram and gab and FB and tiktok and youtube and dozens of other methods to get our word out.
Please understand – I’m not complaining at all. I certainly have more connection with most of my siblings than I have had in a number of years, as a quick text, or a joke gets shared, and by more than one – how many people do you want to get the word out to? I’m not sure there is a limit. And, of course with the invention of “facetime,” once again dreamy-eyed lovers can actually see each other with their phone. But I did want to point out how this one technology, like most, has had the ability to utterly change our culture. I found it interesting, in the last years of my work-life, how impatient someone would get if I didn’t immediately answer a text or an email, or even answer an incoming call. I remember one time when my phone battery was about dead, and so I plugged it in to a charger, and forgot about it for a few hours. You see – I have always believed my phone exists for my convenience, and not the world’s, since the world doesn’t pay for it! Anyway, after a time, I checked to see if the phone was up to power and imagine my shock to find I had three voicemails and probably five or six texts, all from the same individual! My first thoughts were that there must have been a tornado, or nuclear blast, or some other life-threatening tragedy that had come to this earth – it had only been a couple of hours, for crying out loud. I listened to the voice mails, and then read the texts, and the only urgency/emergency that I discovered, was that I hadn’t immediately answered the phone, or responded in some way. I will confess to you that I waited even longer to get back to the person, just to be a stinker.
It’s rare that I write a letter anymore, although I cherish many of the ones from my younger years, and I wonder what will be left for the next generation to remember, recall, or reread. It’s way too easy to delete an electronic bit. I suppose that betrays my age and perspective, but I’ve always been supportive of things that last, and the meaning that surrounds those things. I’m also a proponent of the human voice and being able to communicate feelings and thoughts and hopes and frustrations with tone and intensity. I also have faith that the pendulum continues to move, and will one day, in a way we can hardly imagine, swing in a different direction, hopefully so that we might communicate with each other more deeply and intentionally, than having to depend on auto-correct. I look forward to that happening, and for now, even when I don’t have to, I will “call” someone, or maybe even drop a note the old-fashioned way. But just so you know, I am very happy to not be writing this blog long-hand, with a fountain pen, dipped in ink…
Talk with you soon.
Word of the Day: Gnathonize. It means “to flatter someone.” The word comes actually from a character in the Roman comedy Eunuchus (we all remember that one, don’t we?) by the playwright Terrance. Gnatho is a servant who is constantly flattering and buttering up those above him, to get them to do what he wants them to do. If you do that, you are a gnathonizer! By the way, the word is not related to “gnat,” which was originally from German meaning “biting insect.” (Duh.) The word, “flatter,” however is interesting because it means to caress with the “flat” of the hand, or the palm. It also means deceive by hiding the truth, or to please, but give someone a false impression about themselves, always with an ulterior motive. Be careful who you listen to!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.