Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Texts just aren't the same: Aug. 29, 2010

For a word nerd like me, the rise of electronic communication has been bittersweet.

Taking note of the little things that have slipped away

    For more than a decade, I have carried a couple of scraps of paper around with me, tucked into my wallet between my YMCA membership and voter registration cards. They’re little notes my husband left me years ago – one letting me know that he had gone to Home Depot and would carry in the groceries for me when he returned, and another with an equally everyday but endearing message.

    I came across these bits of paper recently, and was struck by this thought: We never, ever leave each other notes anymore. Leaving notes used to be an almost daily occurrence – we are always running errands and tweaking our schedules and dashing off in different directions. For years, if I walked into our house to find it empty, I would invariably discover a scrap of paper on the dining room table with an explanation and the occasional affectionate aside or silly doodle.

    Now we’re in pretty much constant contact by cell phone. We probably talk to each other four or five times a day: I’m taking the kids to the pool, there’s hamburger in the fridge for dinner, when is the cat’s vet appointment, did you send in the field trip permission slip?

    It’s nice to be able to keep tabs, but I kind of mourn the end of those little scraps of paper, not to mention the end-of-the-day download that has become nearly obsolete. By the time we all get home in the evening, there isn’t honestly that much to tell that we don’t already know.

    I’m not usually one to wax curmudgeonly about technological advances; I’m far more likely to wonder aloud how anyone ever did their jobs before the advent of the Internet, the rise of cell phones and the miracle of online maps.

    I did manage, somehow, to do my work before all of these things, but I rely so heavily on them now that my memories of those pre-Internet years are as fuzzy as a 1997 cell phone connection. I vaguely recall driving with a huge map of the city spread out over my steering wheel, trying to get to the scene of a breaking news story. That had to be just as dangerous as texting while driving.

    My sons, who I’m sure will never leave notes for anyone, offer me an interesting window into how fundamentally different the world looks to people who have never lived without all of this information. At ages 5 and 10, my boys are not acquainted with the concept of mystery. If I don’t know the answer to a question, no matter how obscure or nonsensical, they head for the Mac and ask 'The Google.'

    Speed of light. Feet in a marathon. What kangaroos eat. Length of the Great Wall of China. How to escape from a car that’s underwater. Winner of the first Tour de France. Why lightning bugs glow. How flies fly. How bees sting. Why skunks stink.

    But when they venture into territory where you just can’t count on The Google (Why do people have to get sick? Why can’t we live forever? Why do bad things happen?) they hit a conceptual wall.

    I tell them there are some things people really don’t understand. I’m resigned to -- maybe even comfortable with -- that idea.

    My boys think it makes about as much sense as leaving messages on scraps of paper on the dining room table.

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