May 22, 2011

A Failure to Communicate

Published as an original work on in April 2011.

When cable television arrived, it supplanted four channels with thirty. I remember those heady early days of MTV and watching Michael Jackson dance to Billie Jean. And who was this Larry King guy, anyway? It was clearly a brave new world.

Then cable went digital we moved from thirty channels to three hundred. There was a show for everyone, Fly-Fishing Housewives of Tennessee, reruns of Here’s Lucy, and the Ukrainian National Women’s Junior High Lacrosse Tournament (now in High Def!).

With cable on demand today, choice is virtually limitless.

Cable television and its metamorphoses is a great metaphor for how life has changed in the last thirty years. My father – who is eighty – sometimes says he is glad his mother isn’t here to see how complicated the world is. When my grandmother was born in 1899, the telephone did not exist. Now I carry an Android that has the raw computing ability to launch a Space Shuttle. (Sometimes I wish it just worked well as a phone. I’ve been having adjustment problems moving from a keyed Blackberry to a touch Android. Seems I can get my touch and flick down to answer the thing.)

This brings me to my point, in a very roundabout way.

We have too many channels, and by channels, I mean every conceivable means of communication known to man. I am reminded of those scenes in old movies, after the space ship lands or the hurricane hits where crowds run in the streets and show mass hysteria. We have a lot of noise and little real communication.

Earlier this week I watched the Today show. Two of the lead stories in the 8 a.m. CDT hour were: 1) Judge Judy is hospitalized, and 2) A high-level Libyan official defects.

These stories were given equal weight.

Nothing against Judge Judy, but I suspect if I turn on one of the 24/7 news channels, I might get to see her colonoscopy.

We can keep in touch 24/7, yet even at the personal level, we seem to have lost perspective. Email used be the primary channel; now with personal devices, I find that people read email on the fly and forget to respond, thinking, "I’ll do it when I get to my computer." The amount of email I receive is astonishing—as is, I suspect the amount of email I send. I don’t tweet, so I’m already falling behind. How much more instant and accessible can our communication become? We already live in a post-Dick Tracy-watch world.

As computer chips grow smaller and more prevalent, will we eventually have one implanted in our forehead that can send a message to whomever we please? And what will we do when that channel is too crowded?

When it all falls apart, you can find me somewhere in an adobe hut, typing on my manual Olympic typewriter. I’ve purchased extra ribbons and correction tape.