I am writing this in a letter form. Remember those? I longingly do. And not e-mails - actual arrive in the mail, hand-written letters. Our second United States President, John Adams, and his wife Abigail exchanged 1,200, in what The New York Times remarked was "one of the most documented marriages in early American history" in its article on Joseph Ellis' "First Family, Abigail and John Adams." A more contemporary (although also no longer with the living) Julia Child has her letters featured in As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, which is on my long "to read" list. Will it rekindle a love affair with letters? I wish, but doubtful.
I am writing to you mildly alarmed by this New York Times article (which notably published the same day as the John Adams article). It started out this way,
"Signs you're an old fogey: You still watch movies on a VCR, listen to vinyl records and shoot photos on film. And you enjoy using e-mail."
The topic: how companies like Facebook, in an attempt to reach an increasingly impatient younger generation are "responding with message services that are focused on immediate gratification."
The problem I see with immediate gratification - one is going to be endlessly dissatisfied, always looking for the next big thing. Isn't that the driver of our American consumer culture and what marketers want? There's always a better TV, better eReader, better car, better "thing" that will complete your life. The invisible forces want you constantly bored. No profits in using what we have.
Beyond the consumerism (imagine the true price of all these gadgets and services over a lifetime, not in a monthly view), the cost to our language and communication skills is immeasurable.
"We're going down a road where we're losing our skills to communicate with the written word," bemoaned Judith Kallos, an e-mail etiquette blogger and author in the article. Added, rightly so, Californian Mary Bird, 65, "I don't want to be one of those elders who castigate young people's form of communication. But the art of language, the beauty of language, is being lost."
CBS Nightly News ran this story about the American ignorance of other languages (even our current Commander in Chief admitted he doesn't speak another language and was embarrassed to say so). They noted the small but slightly growing study of Chinese among American schoolchildren (50,000 American children are studying Chinese, 200 million Chinese school children are studying English). Aside from our nation's abysmal attention to the arts and culture in our education system, I couldn't help wonder how can we embrace another language, when we're rapidly losing sight of the importance of our own?
Channeling John Adams and Julia Child. We need a piece of you in the 21st century.
E-mail, for today's youth, was described by James E. Katz, the director for the Center for Mobile Communications Studies at Rutgers University, as "painful...It doesn't suit their social intensity."
The technology-induced ADD epidemic that seems to be sweeping many of both the youth and adults of our nation is one I refuse to be caught up in. The next time you go out to eat at a restaurant, look around and note the people compulsively typing away on their gadgets. After a recent date night at the movies with my sweetheart, some people were busy checking e-mail as soon as the credits were rolling. My biggest interest at that moment was finding out if True Grit was filmed domestically or abroad (it was filmed in Texas and New Mexico, which I would have missed had I been texting or a looking at e-mail). My social skills, it seems, are not so "intense."
The great trap of all this constant connectivity is that work and personal time boundaries are erased and many seem to be unable to live in the moment. No Smart Phone for me, thank you. The more intimate connections (a conversation, a phone call, a long overdue cup of coffee with a friend) are lost. I don't need to know the "status" of what everyone is doing at every second of the day (ahem, Facebook, which you won't find me on).
I do want to have personal encounters with people and their ideas. Face to face engaging conversations, thoughtful articles and blog posts, the arts (literature, film, music, visual, dramatic) - things that stimulate my mind instead of dulling it, that's what interests me. And filling my daily world by celebrating the word - its beauty, power and magnificence. I hereby add "Word" to my list of favorite four-letter words.
Catherine (a proud Old Fogey as facetiously defined by The New York Times)