November 26, 2009

Nostalgic at Thanksgiving

I'm feeling nostalgic this Thanksgiving. Maybe it's because so many things have changed over the years and I'm just plain longing for "The Good Old Days." I find myself thinking about the telephone. Yes, the telephone. No, I haven't lost my mind. At least not entirely. I keep thinking about how the world has become so impersonal. Rarely do we use the telephone to talk to people anymore. Instead, we rely on e-mail and text messages, often going through an entire day communicating with someone and never hearing their voice.

In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell was the first to patent the telephone in order to transmit voices telegraphically. Antonio Meucci, Philip Reis, and Elisha Gray were other inventors credited with inventing the telephone, but Alexander Graham Bell seems to get the credit most often when the story is told about the first complete sentence being transmitted to his assistant in another room, "Come here, Watson, I want you." This transmission was followed in 1877 by the formation of Bell Telephone Company and in 1885 with the formation of American Telephone and Telegraph Company.  And, as they say, "The rest is history."

We saw the invention of the rotary dial phone which had many looks over the years, followed by the push button phone, and later the first cell phone that looked like a brick. I actually owned one of those. And now, of course, we live in the world of the iPhone, the Blackberry, and other "Smart Phones." Phones were meant to transmit the human voice from one location to another. It just doesn't seem like we use the phone for that purpose anymore.  Instead, we use our phone to text and e-mail. Or we use it to play games, post tweets and status updates. Some even download hundreds of applications meant to make our lives easier or more fun. But, none of these things have advanced or enhanced human voice communication. More likely than not, these "advances" have just created better and easier ways to avoid human contact.


Do you worry that our youth will not be able to stand in front of a classroom and make a verbal presentation? What is going to happen to political debates or our legal system that depends upon "oral arguments" before a judge? Don't get me wrong. I enjoy a new technological breakthrough as much as the next person. I'm usually right there in line to buy it too. I've always felt that to successfully function in the world, we have to know how to read, to write, and to speak. Many of the young people I meet dislike reading, write incomplete sentences with abbreviations like "lol" and "btw," and rarely have to speak to each other, or anyone else for that matter.  Maybe I'm making a big deal about nothing. Maybe I should try harder to give up my apparent need for human contact, and embrace this new technology. I think I'll try it out on my wife. Over the next couple of days we won't verbally communicate. We'll only talk via text messaging. Maybe that would be good for our relationship. Maybe it will catch on. Maybe this method of communication will be used to cut the divorce rate. I'm certain it would cut the rate of child birth. Or, maybe I'm just one of those rare people who need some human contact, and to hear the human voice,every now and then.

 
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TheBAFSignal by Bradley A. Friedman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.bafman.com.