I thought it was quiet; no phone calls, no texts, no incessant beeping from the double-edged technological marvel that is both a lifeline and a noose. I hadn’t missed it, but there was a vague sense of something being absent from my desk.
‘You left your phone here,’ said the first email, sent mid-afternoon and not long after I had clocked off and come home. I cast my mind back to the morning… I had placed the black phone on the black cabinet while I brought in a delivery. I could understand why I’d overlooked it.
‘Hello? Are you okay? There were sirens just after you left…’ said the second email, time-stamped an hour or two later. ‘Battle stations,’ said the latest, sent just moments before I had fired up the computer. ‘Expect your other son to knock on your door any minute now.’
Having reassured my sons that I was not, in fact, dead, dying or otherwise inconveniently incapacitated… just away from the screen… I set off in the fading light to retrieve the phone, pondering, as I drove, how easily we have become enslaved by modern communication technologies.
They can be hugely reassuring. Gone are the days when you had to don hat and coat, scrabble around for the right change then venure out in all weathers to the nearest phone box to make a call, waiting for the dial to return to its place after each digit. And then hope the person to whom you wished to speak was near a phone. The mobile phone goes everywhere (unless you happen to put it down on a black cabinet…) and most of them now not only make calls but offer a complete home entertainment system, home office and tracking facility built-in.
Not only can you find your way to anywhere with talking maps, find out pretty much anything with talking assistants and buy anything with all too much ease, you can make a call without even dialling a number. Assuming you don’t have a ten-mile drive to collect the phone first. And other people, with minimal effort, can track your whereabouts…
Just a few years ago, a week or two between letters was a fair question-and-response time. We were patient about correspondence and didn’t expect an immediate response, regardless of international time-zones. And, when we did put pen to paper, we actually wrote. There would be all the news in there, anecdotes, worries, fears, hopes and dreams… something to sit down and savour when it dropped on the mat. Something that might be kept for years.
Somehow, emails do not work that way. Their instant nature means we seldom go to the same lengths. Brevity becomes key and even the most personal emails seem to suffer. I wonder if it it the very convenience and invasiveness of emails that prevents us from writing the cherishable epistles of old?
These days, people expect you to be contactable, all the time, and we seem to have developed a whole new set of negative emotions to go with our new ease of communication. If you do not answer a call, you are likely to end up feeling guilty, and the caller may resent your lack of immediate response… yet I, for one, don’t take the phone into the shower, or answer it when driving. There are, I admit, even times I really do not want to speak to anyone. Mea culpa. These days, that seems a terrible admission to make!
Just a few days after my son set up a notification blocker on my phone, he was horrified to see that it had already blocked almost seven thousand of the things. Incoming informaion is a constant and can become intolerable if we allow it to rule our lives.
Yet, that same technology allows us to share thoughts instantly with others… thoughts that once would have been lost before the opportunity to share them arose. We can pick up the phone, send a one-liner by email or text, or even a dozen of them. We can converse across continents in real-time, rather than awaiting a response. We can ‘be there’ for each other in ways previous generations could not have envisaged and even the video calls that were the stuff of science fiction when I was young have become commonplace.
I love modern technology. I feel incredibly lucky to be alive at this moment in time and to benefit from all the technological advances we have made and are making…but I do not want to become a slave to something designed to serve.