I have a love/hate relationship with all things technological. I tested out typewriters with the written word over four decades ago and tried the spoken word on the telephone, where communication with others was my passionate penchant; a creative conversational pastime (and career) where I could share my ideas, insights and imaginings with friends and foes alike (I have always enjoyed the enthusiasm of a good debate or argument depending on your semantic interpretation!) I indulged in garrulous gossip that I hoped was harmless and humble, I pounded the keys of QWERTY with a rigorous routine and spent many hours with my ears pinned to the latest handset. It was a slavish devotion to communication, but in the 21st century we have embraced a new technology of talk; via mobile phones, SMS, Skype, chat rooms, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and probably many more that I’m not aware of because I’m an old-fashioned Femmosexual who still prefers face-to-face dialogue with real people instead of automated robotic machines. Defined as communication wondertools and celebrated as a revolution to change the world, this majestic megaslaughter of so much personal pleasure in plain simple talk heralds a horizon of new habits I am just not interested in. There is information overload, knowledge at our fingertips; reshaping, reforming and rewriting our relationships (however, good, bad or ugly!)
Certainly, the computer has revolutionised the written word; tearing copious pages of typos out of inky, dirty typewriters is buried alongside the Tippex as well of course the erroneous choice of words that we’ve rethought. It’s a brilliant blessing for all writers – just hit the delete button and you’re presented with a fresh page to befriend, with your hands staying unblacked and smudge-free. I struggled however when I first had to face a screen to write; it took a few months of serious endeavour to master the magic of wordprocessing; which button? Do I click once or twice? How do I set indents, paragraphs and page breaks? How do I number the pages on the bottom of the page? What if I mistakenly hit the wrong button and lose it all? I was petrified by the performance I had to participate in; I never had any lessons; it was sink or swim and sometimes I sunk absolutely with anxiety as my partner. My fingers jammed up on the keys, no feelings flowed and I was living in fear of having to use a computer again. At one workplace, I even wrote a story out by hand before I touched the computer; the supposed ease of this new technology had evaded me completely; I was a technophobe, bring back the typewriter, all is forgiven – even though mere kids no older than four or five years who could barely read were adept at this new writing game. Help! Eventually, I purchased a computer, had a friend (younger and far more astute with this technology than I was) show me a few basic drills and I was ready to do combat with my machine. Now of course, a lot of it is second-nature; I can write onto the screen and the anxiety has passed, but I’m still a novice; I recently bought the book Computers for Dummies and I will attend to its biblical teachings with the utmost dedication. A new religion has evolved from the brainpower of mere mortals who revel in their billions and have truly changed our world. But is it for the better?
And while we can access the time, the date and all other myriad bits of information (who needs a watch now?) of course, there is Google and all the other search engines that have pushed libraries into oblivion, forsaken beautiful books and given us the opportunity to eschew encyclopedias and delve instead into the depths of wisdom at the touch of a button or click of the mouse (and I still have trouble using that slowly- I rush across the copy to highlight it). It surely is an information wonderland – we can seemingly seek out info on everyone and anyone, discover their innermost secrets and celebrate their fame and fortune (or misfortune!) via Facebook and Twitter. These fads are undoubtedly brilliant on one level, but are people so desperate for friends and wanting to share their thoughts with all the millions that devour these technological gambits? I certainly don’t want to know, I would much prefer to pick up ye old telephone and talk to my friends, boring, I can hear you say, but I’d rather communicate directly with a real person than litter my life with computer chat. It’s more personal, it’s more real and I believe, more human to really relate on a one to one basis than eavesdropping on Twitter. And are so many people now ready to surrender their privacy for the fame of Facebook? It appears so, but I can only decry the demise of meaningful conversation for the printed practice of communication. And I’m loathe to even define it as that! It purports to inform us about our friends, (so-called!) (as well as our enemies) and anything goes in cyber space! You can say what you like, to whom you like with no evil repercussions – though cyber bullying is now so prevalent the Victoria Government is pondering a multi-million dollar policy to try and outlaw it. Young people have committed suicide over the nasty, pernicious and ugly words sprayed out on the internet; and I can only lament the mischievous manipulation of the technology that was designed to enhance our lives. And of course, there’s now the horrifying incident in the ADF where a young 18-year-old female cadet was taped via Skype having sex with another male cadet which he broadcast to his mates! Has technology stripped our society of all its dignity and respect? While Skype lets us talk to friends across the seas, it can be so easily abused that it renders its revolutionary routines akin to malpractice that borders on covert terror! It can destroy lives, reputations and respect for others; a social malignant evil that knows no bounds. Is our technology the panacea it purports to be for delivering communication in a New Age?
And emails are sometimes no better at advancing the cause of communication; our boss can send us an email instead of fronting us, we can choose not to answer the ones we don’t want to know and we can ignore things written in them when we do choose to answer at all. Both a blessing and a curse – but what happened to conversation? Certainly, an email can be cheaper than a phone call; it can save us time and energy we might otherwise not have, but are we just names on a print out (at least we’re not yet numbers as people were in Ayn Rand’s classic anti-totalitarian book – Anthem!)? Like so much of the technology, I stand in awe of the mind boggling boffins who invented and developed it all; in one breath, I am intrigued and fascinated by what it can achieve and how it can save us time and money; but in another perspective, I am disconcerted and disappointed in the encroachments it makes into our lives so that real communication with others is relegated to a button on a piece of machinery. Have our lives become so automated, so mechanical that like robots, we are programmed for computers the way they are themselves? It’s a frightening scenario; text messages and SMS on our mobiles (and I don’t like them either!) have replaced conversant chat; maybe I’m just a tedious grumpy woman out of her generational depth, but I still prefer hours of good old fashioned conversation to sitting in front of a bloody computer all day catching up on all the titbits of gossip framed on Facebook or Twitter. And when you’re in the supermarket laden with goodies or on public transport with all the roar of the traffic and your mobile rings, it’s enough to send this Femmosexual reeling into the bygone era of yesteryear. Then of course there is the benefit of the caller’s tel number appearing on the mobile so you don’t even have to answer it if you don’t want to talk to the person! Me thinks sometimes its disadvantages and dangers far outweigh its supposed joys in our once private world. Do we really want to know how many times Shane Warne shagged Liz Hurley? Or even guess at it when they didn’t come out of their Brighton hideaway for a whole weekend? (See Twitter!) I will still cling to conversation and while I may live in the past, it’s a past I greatly prefer to communicating with a machine! Of course, mobiles can save lives when you’re trapped somewhere and nobody knows, they can ease our pathway to meeting friends and not getting lost, they can transform our daily routine of walking boringly down the street and how many times have I turned around because I hear someone saying hello only to feel like a fool because it’s a mobile they’re talking to! (Who ever talks to themselves these days?)
Without doubt, this mechanized scenario has re-invented communication; but how much of it is really meaningful and sincere? There is a new fashion of fast, convenient conversation, quick comebacks to communication via SMS and suddenly, none of us must feel alone. Facebook offers us friends for a lifetime; (How many do you have?) Twitter ensures we finally have a voice in the world to be heard and listened to and of course, all the myriad of online services promises to push us into recognition and streamline our lives! It’s all so easy and we don’t even have to leave the comfort of our homes. Yes, there is much to thank the technology for; but while I can acknowledge the achievements of it all, I am a romantic who revels in the rituals of our glorious past and recoils from too many baffling behaviours of the New World!
It’s your favourite barista talking. I am one of these kids that you talk about in your article. Them kids who get their head around a computer while still sucking their thumb. I understand that you feel put off by this orgy of communication. But these things are means, tools, not ends. A hammer is not a weapon but you can kill someone with it. We should not be afraid by the tools but by the use we put them to.
I like the idea of being able to send an SMS because it is non intrusive. The information is passed and the answer can be delayed which is impossible with a phone call. If my friend is still sleeping, busy or anything else, he can back to me later. I have sent a message in a bottle in a way that can only exist with this medium. And mail, email, phone, facebook, all have their own advantages.
Now we are human beings, we are lazy, exposed to addictions, procrastination, cowardness and all these nasty things, and it is tempting to use these tools to serve these sins.
But let’s not get the enemy wrong. What we should fear is our behaviour, not the means that we use.
Our worst problem is our tendency to victimise ourselves. It is easier to blame webcams for the explosion of kiddie porn on the web than to accept the idea that there might be a massive audience for this kind of stuff. Because if you accept it it means that you haver to deal with it.
This is not just valid for technology gone wrong but for any of the issues we might face in our lives. When we start to look for what we are responsible for and what we can act on, we start growing up and become happy =)