The death of e-mail?
If I were the typical white-haired gentleman who churns out stories every week about New Communication Trends in a doleful monotone, this would have opened with the line "@Rome0, @Rome0, a/s/l?", because to me that would have seemed hip, yet evocative of a bygone era in which communication was rarefied and poetic.
Whenever the New York Times sees its own shadow, it dives into a dark recess of the Internet and emerges with a story about the New Web's role in transforming communication.
Yesterday it informed us that e-mail is passé. Subject lines? They get in the way of communication! That's what kids today want: raw, uncensored communication.
The idea that e-mail is dying (Gmail saw a 10 percent increase in usage in the past year, but who's counting?) and incomprehensibly short text messages and Facebook communiques are taking its place is as seductive as it is fallacious.
But it's a generational thing. Someone once said that whenever you turn 30, something terrible always happens to music. I expect the same is true of communications. Letters were far superior to phone calls, prior generations insisted. Phone calls were at least more human than e-mails, the next shot back. It's nostalgia, whose Ancient Greek roots roughly translate to "homesickness." This creeping homesickness for the past steals upon all writers at some point and drives them to insist that, in their day, men were taller, women more virtuous, the grass greener, and policies more just. Of course, during these same apparently halcyon days, an older writer was complaining that the men were short, the women loose, the grass largely ragweed, and the policies utterly corrupt -- that things, in general, had far declined since his own day. It's a rite of passage.
Then again, no one ever lamented the lost art of telegram writing.
The only thing I have to lament about the passing of telegrams is that, once, someone sent a telegram that read "HOW OLD CARY GRANT" and Cary Grant responded "OLD CARY GRANT FINE. HOW YOU?" I can't think of any context today in which this could happen. I mourn that.
But from my perspective as a twenty-something or other, the rundown is as follows: Letters? Inconvenient -- and they kill trees! You can't spend our lives urging us to save the trees if you're going to turn around and insist we write thank you letters.
Phone calls? Awkward! If someone offered you the choice between a form of communication where you could not see the other person but could hear him or her breathing, and there would be long awkward pauses, or one in which you were able to communicate swiftly and zappily, using words you were able to think out beforehand, which would you choose? So what if it's shorter? The meaning still gets through.
Sure, it's a strange coincidence that all the forms of communication that used to typify politeness and consideration to others were the first to go. Hand written thank you notes? That's so inefficient! And I'm sure Uncle Mark could tell I appreciated that gift, because I sort of glanced up from my Blackberry and smiled. Holiday cards? Why send real cards when you can have an animated graphic of my head caroling at you on loop? Besides, you didn't really want to know what my family of eight was doing, and that Tyler was making real strides in his bassoon-playing. So, in a way, I am doing you a favor. Postcards? I sent you a text message from Milan, and it was much more expensive. You should frame it.
Holding the door? Is there an app for that?
Look, the old ways were slow and redundant and purposeless. We're just trying to be efficient! Yeah, that's what this generation is all about: communications efficiency, which allows us to get back to doing - uh, whatever it was we were doing.
Earlier, I was watching this video of two cats playing patty-cake, but usually I must be doing something important.
This is the part where, if I were over 50 years old and writing about this in order to seem hip, I would have typed "o rly?"
Maybe I would have had a point.
| December 21, 2010; 11:57 AM ET
Categories: Only on the Internet, Petri, Seems Suspect | Tags: email, kids these days
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