By David Carroll
About twenty-five years ago, I was listening to the radio, and I heard an interview with a local business owner. He was asked, “How do you start your day?” He replied, “First, I check my e-mail.” Wow, I thought. That must be so cool. He is so important, he gets e-mail messages.
Most of us get plenty of e-mail messages today, meaning far too many. On any given day, I hit “delete” until my finger is sore, without even reading beyond the subject line. I don’t know these foreign princes, pharmaceutical miracle workers, or political operatives, but somehow they have found me. Sure, I block them, but that’s like playing “whack-a-mole.” They’ll just pop up again later.
It makes me nostalgic for the old days when all we had to worry about was junk mail. Yes, there was an occasional phone call during dinner or a random knock on the door from a cookware salesman, but nothing compared to the deluge we face today.
Although e-mail is a widely used form of communication, there are many others. People will ask me, “Why haven’t you answered my message?” “Gee, I didn’t see it,” I reply. “Well, I sent it more than a week ago,” they say.
So I begin my search. How did I miss it? I look in my e-mail junk folder. And how insulting is that? “I didn’t get your message because you were in my junk pile.” “Well, when did I become junk to you?”
My search for the missing message then takes me to social media. Was it a Twitter message? A Facebook message? A text? “No,” they will say. “I sent you an Instagram.” When I tell them I don’t do Instagram, they’ll say, “Well, next time, I’ll connect with you on LinkedIn.” Sorry, you won’t find me there, either. “Here, let me give you a business card,” I’ll say. “Just call me.”
They look at me like I have a third eye. “You mean, on the phone?” “Sure,” I reply. “Well…if that’s what I have to do,” they say, as if I had asked them to lift a Chrysler.
Unbeknownst to some, those little cellphones they carry still make phone calls. Many believe their primary purpose is to take pictures. Recently, I was using an actual Nikon camera to take some pics, and my younger co-workers laughed as if I were Moses holding the stone tablets.
Not that long ago, you would see teenagers crossing a busy street, phone planted firmly on ear. But that is so, so 2010. Now, these “smartphone zombies” are listening through their earbuds, or sending text messages, paying no attention to approaching traffic.
Their attitude is, why talk to someone, when you can simply send a text? Does anyone remember the last time a guy actually used the spoken word to ask a girl out? I believe George Bush was president, and I don’t mean “W.”
I often wonder how life would have been, if texting had come first, followed by the invention of voice phone calls. “Guys, check this out! They’ve come up with something new! We don’t have to use our thumbs anymore! There’s no more auto-correct, sending out the wrong words!” (I once sent my wife a text, intending to say, “I will call you later today.” Somehow it was auto-corrected to “I will call you Larry today.” She replied, “Only if I can call you Moe.”)
Anyway, the conversation would have continued: “So what’s this new invention?” “Well, now you can actually SPEAK to your friend on the other end.. And they can talk back! They can hear you, and you can hear them! It’s just like being face to face!” The streets would have erupted in joy, and people would have talked to one another again. Too bad it worked out the other way around.
Speaking of bygone days, back in ancient times you could go on vacation, lounge on the beach, and never hear from anyone at work. No more. Your beloved smartphone is rarely out of reach, leading to awkward conversations like this. “Harry, where are you?” “Oh, I’m at Daytona, just enjoying the scenery.” “Great. Do you remember where you filed those papers from that account?” “Uh, dude, I’m on vacation.” “Okay. So which shoebox did you file them in?”
I long for the days when a vacation meant “a period in which regular activity is suspended,” like it says in the dictionary. Those wondrous little phones are eating into our much-needed down time.
Folks, summer is here. We could all use a break from being connected to our tiny screens, and those watches that buzz every time someone sends a funny picture. To quote a memorable line from “Moonstruck,” snap out of it!
(David Carroll is a TV news anchor and radio host based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He is online at ChattanoogaRadioTV.com. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405, or at RadioTV2020@yahoo.com)