Sunday, July 10, 2011

Words, Words, Words

July 10. 2011

Words, words, words. Words we read, words we write, words we sing, words we hear. We whisper words, we shout words. We text words and we type words. We use them to draw closer or further apart, to learn and grow and understand. We use them give voice to the emotions that bind us as human beings.

We have more vehicles for communication today than we ever have before. We are connected through emails, instant messages, text messages, Twitter, and Facebook. The moment an idea pops into our heads, it can be conveyed across the room or across the world within seconds. We keep in contact with people today who have moved out of our everyday scope of movement with an ease unimaginable even twenty years ago. The benefits are undeniable, to be sure, and as with all forms of progress, there are less than positive consequences as well. You wouldn't have to look very hard to find someone out in the world of the internet singing the praises of the world's interconnectedness. You would also not have to look very hard to find someone lamenting the demise of language and intellectual thought due to the mundane drivel one has to sift through to find communication of substance. It's all there, and I can't say I disagree with either side of that particular conversation.

That is neither here nor there. I embrace it all. I do, however, have a nostalgic regret for those growing up in this world of today, this world of progress. At the risk of sounding like the ancient grandparents from my youth who loved to say, "When I was growing up....," I am, in fact, going to talk about when I was growing up. When I was growing up, we didn't have the immediacy of text messaging. This has changed the high school dating scene tremendously over the years. Remember when you sat in Algebra class, far too interested in a boy to pay any attention to how to solve for 'x'? Today's high school kids clandestinely sneak out their cell phones to send off a quick text to the boy in question--nothing too personal or deep, but a connection nonetheless. Perhaps a "Hey, do you know what time the football game is?" (The subtext here has nothing to do with a football game, by the way. The text, if you read between the lines, says, "Please don't forget about me. I'm the girl in your Algebra class three seats back.")So what's missing? What's the nostalgic regret? It's two-fold, really. What people are missing with all of this immediacy, for one, is anticipation. Pre-instant communication in seven varieties at our fingertips, if a girl wanted to meet a boy, or a boy wanted to ask out a girl, there was anticipation--the waiting was the excruciating and delicious part of it all--something we know so little of today. We used to write notes in class--scrawled out furtively, having agonized over each word that ultimately made it onto the binder paper our Biology teachers thought were meant for notes on the respiratory system. You might write it in 3rd period, and hand it off to your best friend to give to his best friend during 4th period, only to have to wait until 6th period after lunch to find out whether or not he got it. And even more importantly, if there was a note in return. It was something of a heroic quest, this foray into the battlefield of romance, and the uncertainty of victory was part of the journey. Quaint and archaic, perhaps, but the gesture is one that many of us of a certain age can still remember--the anxiousness of waiting for the response, and the heartbreak or elation when it came. There is no journey now, no waiting for the hero's return. There is no anticipation.

In addition to the loss of anticipation, I also am saddened by the loss of the notes themselves as a memorable connection to one's past--a piece of the past you can see and hold and touch. Those handwritten notes we used to send one another, they were a risk, a personal investment, but also something tangible that couldn’t simply be deleted with a casual ‘delete all text messages' click, swept away indifferently with all detritus of the day. When someone throws away a letter, it means something; it’s a deliberate act. When one deletes an email, there very often is no subtext; it is simply cleaning up one’s work station, so to speak. Now I know not everyone is a sentimental as I, but I know I am not the only one who has old letters from best friends, from old boyfriends. These are history, really, the kind of history that matters most to us---our own. Yes, lots of people even back before instant communication threw away their letters and notes. But those of us who kept them have a tangible connection to the young people we once were, the young people who helped us become who we are today. Sure, there was nonsense, filler, fluff, that made up a lot of those old high school and college notes, not unlike the flurry of text messages that runs through most of our cell phones daily. But there are also hopes and dreams, and records of our daily lives--they are history. I have, for example, letters from a good high school friend who passed away far too young. Through her letters, I can keep the memory alive of the person she was--her thoughts and secrets and plans. I can read them, and many years later can still see her sense of humor and her vulnerability, and her intelligence.

Notes, letters, handwritten communication--these are casualties of modern forms of technology. There is, of course, a proliferation of the written word these days, and much of it can be accessed and saved. But so much of it is for public consumption--carefully crafted for a wide audience--that we are losing some of the personal, intimate communications from our past. Public persona we have in spades, but will we, in the future, have any way of knowing who the very real, day-to-day people really were?

Do people still write notes to each other? In the future, will we still be able to take out of a treasured box of trinkets and memorabilia a letter from a former lover, gingerly unfold and smooth its yellowing pages, and be transported back to another time, a former life? I don’t think so, or at least not nearly in the same way. There are so many more efficient, casual, non-committal ways to communicate now. Is it better? In some ways, yes. In other ways, perhaps no. But I'm a sentimental kind of girl, and I think I'm going to miss this reminiscent kind of journey for my kids. I think I'll go write a nice long letter to each of them--by hand, on pretty stationary.

1 comment:

  1. You should, because you a simply a wonderful writer.