Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Then and Now -- Communication

The last than-and-now topic I am going to address is communication, the way we talk to each other and to the world in general.  The Internet has totally revolutionized both the method and the speed of communication.
My mother looked forward to the mail coming every afternoon, because most days a handwritten letter arrived from someone and she posted one or more outgoing letters.  A single exchange cost 6 cents in postage (3 each way) and the price of the stationery.  But it usually took a couple of weeks.
We called our relatives only when there was some sort of big news to convey and my father’s mental 3-minute timer always sprang into action.  Long-distance phone calls did cost money. 
When my father was in the Pacific for 3 months to work on testing the atom bomb, we could speak to him only via a ham radio operator.  The connection crackled and he was barely audible. 
When I went away to college I wrote a letter home each week and called on Sunday from the phone booth located on my dorm hall.
Any sort of travel arrangements were made by writing letters well in advance of the trip and hoping for a timely response.
Flash forward to today.  Our daughter’s favorite way of communicating is by texting.  Short, sweet sound bites which are usually real-time.  She seldom bothers with email.  We often talk to our son with Skype, paying nothing for the call.
I have gradually come to use my cell phone for things like calling home to get a grocery list or to talk about what to cook for dinner.  I try to avoid using my phone in the car, but sometimes the temptation is too great.
Virtually all forms of travel planning involve the use of the Internet.  We find our vacations; read reviews; locate lodging, cruises, travel guides, rental cars, etc. online in the comfort of our homes or offices.
Letter writing has gone by the wayside.  Everything is much more immediate.  How were we ever so patient?
All of this speed with so many possibilities comes with an associated cost.  We now pay for cell phones and phone plans and data plans for smart phones.  But most of that is done automatically so we fail to really miss the money as our phone buzzes to alert us to a new text just in.
We are not alone in this obsession with phones and immediacy.  Even in the poorest of countries, people now have cell phones.  Globalization has indeed leveled the playing field allowing us easily to talk to each other or to people halfway around the world.
I’m not finding the book as intriguing as my own personal thought on this subject.  Maybe I will be impressed with the promised remarks on how we can restore out country to its former place of glory.


Blogger karen said...

Hi Barbara. I've been reading all your Then and Now posts with great interest... I have my own thoughts from my African perspective, too!

This post is so true. It reminded me immediately of when a friend and I went backpacking in south east asia in the early nineties before internet or cellphones. Can you believe my mother used to write letters to the Poste Restante counters at post offices all over the place, based on our intended itinerary!! I got most of them too, much to my delight. She told me later how she had worried about us, but had to patiently wait for my weekly snail mail letters from asia to africa. How different those times were...

9:58 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Karen -- I had a similar experience when I traveled to Europe in the 70's. My mother and sometimes-boyfriend sent letters to the AmEx offices in cities on my itinerary. It was fun to arrive and have mail from home. There's almost an intrigue about not having so much immediacy!

Although I am still amazed at how we could call home from Thailand last year and get a connection as clear as being in the next room. The world is definitely a smaller place or at least a more connected place today.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Steve Reed said...

I am so glad I grew up with snail mail, because letters were so FUN. Getting mail was exciting, and the wait made them more of an event. E-mail just doesn't carry the same charge.

I used to use our wall-mounted dorm phone, in the hall, to call home. I was happy because it was right next to my door, and I could stretch it into my room for privacy!

There are definitely advantages to the immediacy of our world now. I love being able to Skype with my family from England, for example. But now we're never really away from each other, never on our own, and I'm not sure that's always a good thing. A friend of mine in the Peace Corps in Mongolia, for example, is always on Facebook. I am so thankful that I did my Peace Corps service pre-Internet, because learning to be on my own was such an important part of the lesson.

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Steve makes an interesting point, that in a sense we can't be on our own in the same way any longer. I too matured from experiences where I was removed from ready communication...

In junior high school, my best friend spent each summer in Omaha with her grandmother. We wrote each other every day, decorating the envelopes with elaborate colored designs in colored pen and pencil. Our mail carriers apparently delighted in them (and so did we!). I still send cards; two went out today. So call me a dinosaur...:-)


2:43 PM  
Blogger e said...

I'm also a bit of a dinosaur in this regard. While I like the immediacy of e-mail, I adore letters because getting one means that someone cares enough to sit down and compose a message. I also like sending them and would be very happy to send one to a certain friend in London who has yet to give me his new address, and another friend in the DC area if she is so inclined.

10:19 PM  

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