“The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting.”
A rotary phone call dialed late in the evening, a handwritten note left on the nightstand, a tear-stained letter sent via U.S. Mail, a face-to-face conversation where, sadly, it all slipped away in the dark corner of a café; today, now considered quaint and rarely the norm, these tributaries to the river’s rocky end of relationships demanded of all of us a certain amount of humility, respect, thoughtfulness, and risk. We knew the decision would be emotionally wrenching, yet we “faced” it head on.
“Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.”
Thumbs twitching wildly over a touchscreen device, the chill of a one-sentence email, a posted announcement on social media for thousands to see, a seven-hundred-dollar mobile phone that never calls a soul, nor is it answered by its owner; now considered the way we “easily” access one another at all times. Why then over the course of an average week do we spend literally hours actually tracking down the time to actually have a conversation with an individual?
Why? Because having a conversation is time-consuming.
Never used to be. In fact, we craved it.
“Eloquence is a painting of the thoughts.”
Several years ago, I was in my garage. Gathered over many years, in less-than sturdy moving boxes, I still possessed thousands of handwritten letters from friends, family, and girlfriends. Additionally, there were the professional letters including the relatively sincere, typewritten reject letters for job positions and other memorabilia in all shapes and sizes. That summer I tackled this daunting chore like an NFL lineman, first, by decade I fiercely organizing these treasures. Once that was accomplished, I chose which to keep and which to discard. In shiny black four-ring binders, I inserted every possible letter into top-loading plastic protectors front and back – some as many as fifteen pages long – thus creating archives of my life. Categories included “Family,” “Friends,” “Girlfriends,” “Letters from Camp,” “Professional & Career,” “Best Friend,” and “Education.” (The last collection included hundreds of irreplaceable drawings, writings, art projects, report cards, diplomas, and other remnants of my life as a student initially and lovingly preserved by my mother, then for posterity, by me.) You should know that on many occasions I have mentioned this chronicle of my life to others; I tend to sense they think I’ve gone mad.
“’Communication Breakdown’ – it was punchy and direct, with a real attitude that was different to other bands going around.”
Why would anyone bother to collect and store one’s life in an analog format while being inundated by the wooing and wowing of our culture of blur and immediacy? Snapchat or Instagram? Facebook albums? A digital collection in “the cloud?” A 3 x 5 color photograph with a matte finish? Aw, isn’t that nice. (But, Grandma, where would I put it?) A letter scribed to someone in their life on paper in ink? (Please tell me the point of waiting three days to receive it when I can shoot an email?) Answering the phone when I can tap decline? (I’ll text them later.)
The New York Times:
“In a new book, ‘Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,’ the social psychologist Adam Alter warns that many of us — youngsters, teenagers, adults — are addicted to modern digital products. Not figuratively, but literally addicted.”
Alter (on addiction): “Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many ‘likes’ our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.
Raise your hand if this is not you.
Alter (on tech gurus and Silicon Valley): “I find it interesting that the late Steve Jobs said in a 2010 interview that he forbade his children to engage with tech. In fact, there are a surprising number of Silicon Valley titans who refuse to let their kids near certain devices. There’s a private school in the Bay Area and it doesn’t allow any tech — no iPhones or iPads. The really interesting thing about this school is that 75 percent of the parents are tech executives.”
How many of you play World of Warcraft on your iPad ten hours a day?
Alter (on the tech industry’s strategy): “. . . game producers will often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It works.”
By now I’m certain you are saying, “No, that won’t happen to me.”
Alter (on solutions): “In general, I’d say find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”
Though in various genres of literature we read about dystopian societies, whether America or some unnamed setting, themes tend to be along the lines of Whoops, we let AI go too far! However, that future is not only now, it is moving so exponentially fast, we find ourselves mesmerized by the notion of allowing us the myth of more free time to be creative. That was the thinking behind the advancement of so many technologies. FREE TIME????? Please, if you know where it is, let me know. Meanwhile, we spend hours upon hours on treacherous learning curves, deciphering code, installing updates, or upgrading to some device that will be obsolete in six months.
You’re already a dinosaur.
My most terrifying read of late was Jeffrey Deaver’s The Steel Kiss. You want your Google driverless cars? Go right ahead. You want all the high-tech doo-dads in your brand-new Lexus? Be my guest. You want voice interface so you can talk to people on the phone when you should be concentrating on the horrible uninsured driver swerving in front of you? Take your chances. You want your car taken over by hackers and driven off a bridge? Brrrr. Have you even considered your so-called smart refrigerator may allow thieves to monitor you when you are home and when the house is empty? Go ahead, spend three-thousand dollars for those fancy doors and temperature displays. Are you going to put your entire trust in human beings and their algorithms?
You can cite The China Syndrome (1979) as one of many films that portended the eventuality of a nuclear plant meltdown not only due to human error, but by being dependent on supposed redundant systems that would prevent any such catastrophe. However, it is one of the most underrated films ever, War Games (1983), that flirts with the “thrill” of AI and how its use will aid the military in mitigating any likelihood of thermonuclear war.
“How about a nice game of chess?”
In the world of music, The Beatles split is well-documented. When Paul officially filed for dissolution of the partnership in December of 1970, all four band mates had for the most part already checked out and had solo LPs released. At least there was a contract amidst the rancor. If there were mobile phones, would Paul have texted John: “And in the end?”
“The late 20th century had just enough communication abilities to allow superstar-ness and communality to happen. It was a musical renaissance that rivals the visual one that happened in the 1400s.”
During the 1970s there were many communication breakdowns among band mates, in many cases robbing fans of many more hits, concerts, and memories. With so many talented artists working together in the studio, on the road, on stage and everywhere in between it’s easy to see how strong ties could become frayed – in many cases coming completely undone.
David Gates, Jimmy Griffin, Robb Royer and (later) Mike Botts formed Bread in Los Angeles. Certainly, much of their creativity came from the excellent interplay between Gates’ awesome vocals and songwriting and Griffin’s pitch-perfect guitar work. The undercurrent, however, was that their label Elektra consistently chose Gates’ songs for A-side singles. In fact, none of the Griffin/Royer songwriting collaborations charted. This friction inevitably led to rising tensions, then a relatively early split in 1973, after several chart toppers and Top 10 hits.
Today, perhaps Griffin could have followed Gates on Facebook and trolled him with unflattering insider stories.
Bread briefly reunited at Elektra’s request in 1977 for their hit “Lost without Your Love” but soon frictions resurfaced. After a long time apart, they reunited one final time in 1996 for their 25th Anniversary Tour.
Originally formed in 1967, Fleetwood Mac was a successful British blues rock band way before the arrival of Californians Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, New Year’s Eve 1974. Still, they only had one single ever to chart (“Oh Well Pt. 1” 1970). Like most Californians, this dynamic duo with his cool ‘fro and her leather and lace came with hit songs and drama-a-plenty. With all the romantic intrigues, the gossip, the betrayals, and other contentious friction there were also ten straight Top 20 hits, with “Dreams” being the band’s first #1 in 1977. And though there were many shifts of personnel prior to 1975 (most notably Peter Green and Bob Welch), Fleetwood Mac lost most of its charting power once Buckingham formally left the band in 1987 (after an alleged altercation with Nicks). It took then-President-elect Bill Clinton to get this most successful line-up to reunite again briefly in 1993, with “Don’t Stop” becoming Clinton’s campaign song. Mac’s in-fighting is legendary, yet, it was the old-fashioned variety: actual escalated anger and rage in the form of here I am communication.
Now, try to imagine Stevie Nicks instant-messaging with John McVie about how Lindsey was being a pain in the ***.
Also, well-documented is The Eagles’ split, as well as their many line-up changes. The irony is that their final LP before breaking up was The Long Run (1979) which was noteworthy for taking, well, a LONG time to be made! Kinda bent but we ain’t breakin’ in the long run.
Uh, yea, you did break.
It’s quite impressive that Glenn Frey (RIP) and Don Henley – so talented and perfectionists to the core – were able to work nearly ten years together. In many ways, the Henley/Frey songwriting team paralleled Lennon/McCartney. With talent and egos so potent, how could they possibly survive?
If he could have, what if before the title track “Hotel California” (1976) was recorded, Don Henley emailed Don Felder (whose maid in L.A. had to locate the work tape with the song’s intro guitar work) and had written: “Man, why didn’t you write out the licks? We’re wasting precious time here. There’s gonna be heartache tonight.”
“Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.”
-Marilyn vos Savant
Genesis was Peter Gabriel’s band from the day it was established in 1967. All of us know how incredibly talented Peter is, but other than (#62 peak) “Your Own Special Way” in 1977, the band did not chart well until their 1978 release . . . And Then There Were Three. Peter had left and Phil Collins took over the lead vocal duties fronting guitarist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks. There was much friction between the band prior to Gabriel’s departure, mostly between Gabriel and Banks. To everyone’s credit tours were finished and commitments upheld until the official split. At the heart of this, the prog-rockers were well-known for collaborating on all songs, with all of the built-in issues that go with that. Some might argue that one songwriter, or at least a twosome helps to mitigate a potential powder keg of raw emotion.
Hey, Peter and Tony, what if you just un-friend one another?
“I spent a lot of years on the road, and what happens is you find out who your real friends are and you find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie in communication. I’ve had the same friends for 20 years now and I can count them on one hand.”
This person has 1.5K followers. The next, 300K likes. A YouTube channel’s video goes viral and gets 5,000,000 hits. Justin Bieber becomes an internet sensation. An entire generation has been lured by the catnip of cat videos. Apple fans line up at stores early the night before in order to be one of the first to purchase the newest “next big thing.” Like Star Trek The Next Generation, instead of calling out “Computer,” instead, in millions of homes, we hear “Alexa!” Throughout any given day, I dodge pedestrians staring down at their phones, or, most terrifying of all, I notice drivers of all ages, staring down at their phones and texting while driving through dangerous traffic at high speeds.
Saddest of all? Taking one’s dog on a walk and texting the entire time.
What are the ramifications for society and the world at large? Not being a geopolitical expert, I would not presume to predict. Perhaps, in the end, technology saves us from ourselves. One outcome is that we become telepathic and communicate at the highest level our species can attain. One chip in the brain and who knows? A global worldwide consciousness and understanding.
Don’t bet the farm.
“People in this world of superficial communication find themselves isolated and lonely and have difficult in talking about personal things that really matter to them.”
Or like lemmings, we eventually dive into the waters of our own making. Next time you are at a restaurant, take a tally of the number of times the majority of the party is on a device. Observe the duration. How often does the entire party have a gadget in their hands? Does one of the group have nothing at all and appear out-of-place?
Then, have another circular glance at the patrons. Find a table with people completely conversing. Notice what you notice. No judgment. Compare away. Ask yourself: Does any of it really matter? To those who have grown up with this technology, does a tabletop littered with iPhones and Androids connect them in much the same way I had unparalleled music, a deep ecological connection with the land, and even Pong?
What gives me the right to make a case against what cannot be obviated?
One word: Addiction.
I challenge any and all: Select one day a week for twenty-four hours of no screen time. Some of you reading this may already do it.
Ether we restore its true nature or it’s off to the ether.