Monday, March 30, 2009

Tweets, Textiquette and the Tsunami of Technology

We had a long and involved discussion at last Sunday’s Descant literary magazine meeting (where I serve as a Co-Editor) about upcoming themes for future issues. We meet once a month. One co-editor suggested a theme along the lines of communications and incivility, the erosion of the personal and public space (an idea which obsesses me a bit I must say). I think that was the gist of the suggestion. This conversation carried over into drinks at a bar down the street after the meeting.

I cannot say it isn’t maddening to have a friend or colleague peering at their Blackberry, cellphone, PDA, or what have you, during a meeting, social or otherwise, or that I haven’t nearly lost my mind asking my daughter J to put away, put away, please put away, the cellphone, DS, Macbook, etc … she is using when company is over, during dinner, while practicing her guitar, etc …

Listening to complete strangers discuss the most intimate or unsettling details of their lives to friends, boyfriends or sisters on the streetcar ain’t my idea of fun either. And I fear that I will soon become one of those old, sour-faced ladies who will bellow to some apple cheeked but oblivious youth on the subway: “COULD YOU PLEASE TURN DOWN YOUR IPOD??”

But although a curmudgeon at heart, I feel we rail against a stronger foe than ourselves that cannot be beaten, indeed, should not be beaten. Secretly, I do sometimes wring my hands thinking, “Why can’t people send handwritten letters any more instead of e-mails?” To my mind, e-mails are as a characterless and ephemeral as the dust on butterfly wings – who will save the e-mails that we send to each other a hundred years from now? “Why don’t we read more newspapers?” I sometimes wonder. The great newspapers are being diminished and destroyed, page by page, column by column, every day for readers who favour getting their news on-line. Guilty as charged because that’s what I do now for the most part aside from the occasional Globe & Mail or New York Times.

“Why can’t X just call me instead of tweeting or writing on their Facebook page or sending me a text or an e-mail?” But I am part of that problem too …

“Why am I getting my political news from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Bill Maher’s Real Time rather than Peter Mansbridge or Brian Williams?” I sometimes think guiltily.

I really do have these thoughts and that’s just … sad.

I will attempt to answer these questions: We now have access to modes of communication that are seen to be more relevant, faster, exciting, interesting to utilize. Not necessarily superior, mind you, but more relevant, faster, exciting, interesting. The new technology is like a tsunami and there is no point in saying I really wish I wasn’t in the path of that tsunami. I really wish we had been better to the environment and then maybe this wouldn’t have happened. You are in its path, it has now reached the balcony and the roof - it’s here now so how shall we deal with it? Despite moralizing and handwringing, we cannot compel people, especially younger people, to use modes of communication or media that may seem outdated, un-user friendly, not ecologically sound, uninteresting.

I love newspapers but I don’t subscribe to one anymore.

I love my library of books but I have definitely reduced my purchase of them now sometimes borrowing from libraries and friends and weeding out my library at home (I have images of my kid cursing me when I pass away and she has to dispose of all my books and such).

I am a bit of a news hound but am I listening to respected news anchors on the CBC or network television? No, I’m guiltily watching Jon Stewart on the Comedy Channel or Anderson Cooper on CNN or reading the Globe & Mail on-line.

When compelled to do something that one finds somewhat distasteful but necessary (as in engaging with the real world - as irksome as that may be to some of us) do as Lady Alice Hillingdon, wife of 2nd Baron Hillingdon, did in 1912.
When speaking of the need to fulfill her husband’s unsolicited desires she wrote: “I lie down on my bed, close my eyes … and think of England.” The original quote, possibly apocryphal, was a bit more graphic than this but you get the message.

Think of the phrase “Think of England” as the future, and that this is the technology that I will need to navigate the new world with. Pretending that the world has not changed or should change to your liking won’t make you more adapted to it. Only a bit sadder …

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