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Hello, Hello, Are You There?

Last week, I received a text message asking why I had not responded to an email sent fifteen minutes earlier. It made me ponder how communications have changed.

I do remember the days when a memo was typed and forwarded within an office. The first day it was sent out, the second day it was received and replied to, and the third day it came back. That was considered relatively fast and worked quite well. If one needed faster communications, one could walk down the hall.

I recall the very first fax transmission I ever witnessed. It was in an office in Moncton, back in the early eighties. I stood around a big machine and suddenly a flash of light appeared. Presto, there was a handwritten note with a humorous drawing sent all the way from Fredericton. It may sound somewhat archaic, but for its day, it was very revolutionary. People suggested the concept would never work, as it meant everyone would need a fax machine, and that would never happen.

My very first introduction to a cellular phone came in 1982, when I had one installed in my car for a mere $2,400. It was a big box mounted on the floor and a cool antenna on the roof and you know what? It worked. In fact, it was amazing. I could call anyone I wanted from my car while I was driving, and it was only a dollar a minute. Sure the bill was outrageous, but it saved so much time. In fact, it was so cool, I remember picking it up and putting it to my ear, pretending to talk, just so people could see how cool I was. It was around the same time the microwave made its way into my life, along with a photocopier and an eight-track tape player. It occurred to me, the previous thirty or forty years were spent increasing how fast we could get from one place to another, i.e. jet aircraft, automobiles and speedboats. Now we were in an era when it was all about communicating faster.

I was all over the technology. My mobile phone was too big, so I opted for a portable model. It was bulky, especially by today’s standards but it meant I could communicate from everywhere, not just my car.

I remember getting magazines sent to my home and taking a day or two to read them. When a letter arrived in the mail, I looked forward to opening it and finding the latest news from relatives abroad. I would then take a few days and ponder a response and eventually would sit with pen and paper and write from my soul. I always had a thesaurus and dictionary handy, as I felt it was important to have correct spelling and grammar.

Sadly, most (actually all) of my correspondence today is via email and text and spelling is a thing of the past. Grammar is also dying quickly, but not the grammar I grew up with. It started to die when young people stopped speaking the English I learned in school. The new grammar I am referring to is the new language of technology. When I speak to someone in person, I never say ‘Laughing Out Loud’, but it appears, LOL is the most common phrase on the keyboard, along with ROFL, CYA, BRB and so on.

I can adapt to the terminology and even to the technology, but where I have difficulty is in my brain’s processing speed. I process information today at the same speed I did 20 years ago, but the information now streams at me.

Magazines and books are read using tablets and readers, which is OK, but now I carry 30 magazines and a few dozen books with me at any given time. I have thousands of ‘friends’ who email me, text me, Facebook me and Tweet me, and I find myself constantly looking at my phone or iPad and responding.

“So turn it off”, someone said. Yeah, right, like I can do that.

I panic if I don’t regularly look at my little screen and as soon as I hear the beep I know the world will come to an end if I don’t check it immediately. Am I different? Am I unique? I don’t think so, for when I walk through a mall, I see half the people walking and texting. In restaurants, people are sitting alone conversing via their phones, and sadly, I still see a few texting while driving.

Even in the sanctity of my house, a place where no one can get to me, I find myself Zooming or chatting with friends or associates. One day, maybe sooner than I think, I’ll turn off my computer and flush my phone away forever. I’ll use my iPad as a chopping board and toss the televisions in the trash. Then I’ll buy an airline ticket and retire to Pango Pango. But wait, I can’t buy the ticket without my phone or iPad, and even if I could, how would I get delivery? My conundrum continues.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on Rogers TV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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