Instant Communication

It was sometime in 1995. A business associate connected me with a potential client in France who was working on setting up an online business, and we had stared emailing occasionally. At that time, private email addresses were rare. I still had a CompuServe account, and the address was something like 12345,6789 which looked pretty technical to us at that time. I remember clearly one morning when he sent me an email from Paris, and I responded within a half hour. He wrote back almost immediately, gushing about how a customer of his was utterly amazed about how he had just communicated with somebody in the United States during a meeting with him, and actually got a response back.

It is now 15 years later. Instant communications is common. My Droid phone not only receives phone calls and voice mails, it receives text messages, instant messages, email from my Exchange account as well as email from my gmail account, all seemingly at the same time.

Last week I amazed myself. I was having dinner alone in a small Japanese hole-in-the-wall restaurant in San Diego, reading a book, when I received an email on my Droid from our accountant. She happens to be traveling in Egypt right now. She could not sleep, so she was in the hotel lobby (for WiFi access) at 3:00am in Cairo, paying bills for us. She had some questions for me as to which bills to pay. I texted her back answering her question, and the process took two or three text messages back and forth. I marveled about being able to accomplish meaningful work, like paying the bills, with the accountant in a hotel lobby in Egypt in the middle of the night and myself at dinner in California.

Through the centuries, the only way to communicate overseas was by letter, and letters took months to travel across the oceans. Many letters, of course, never arrived, due to shipwrecks, theft, robbery or outright carelessness of the carriers.

At Christmas, one of my sisters in Germany arranged for us siblings to pool money for a gift for our parents. To pay her back, I did the old-fashioned and simple thing: I put the bills into an envelope and mailed them to her through the postal service. Since I didn’t just want to send the cash, I wrote a few lines on a sheet of paper and put it into the envelope. When I sealed the envelope, I had this flash of awareness when I realized that I was folding the very piece of paper that my sister in Germany would have in her hand, physically, a week later, and I was touched by the “intimacy” of actually sending a physical letter – rather than the instant, immediate and so impersonal emails we usually send.

What a difference 15 years makes. A letter is now quaint, personal and actually intimate.

2 thoughts on “Instant Communication

  1. Eric Petrie

    Something very strange has indeed happened to the world. And of course it isn’t simply bad, though I wonder a lot. I like how you note that real letters mean more today, the value of the shared touch. That’s nice, but it does suggest that a lot of the old correspondence could probably have just been digital electronic magic. Now today only the right people get that special personal touch, paper to paper.

    I like the quick exchange through impersonal digital connection–which is also quick only when you have time for it. That is, you can ignore a post or e-mail, or just let it sit, until you want to open it or reply to it. In some ways, the quick transit allows a more considered delay on the receiving end. I read a post or e-mail, and then mull it over for a time. And then reply when I have something to say. That also seems a real plus.

    But instant e-mailing, in the heat of reading, always seems ill advised, and results in some terrible e-mail manners in my world. That argues for a dummy-delay for the dummies who can’t stop themselves from emotional immediate replies. Then they might at least go back to the sent box and reconsider–say, an hour later.

    Because electronic text, even with the emotion signs, still seems pretty easy to misread, as if any criticism or critique were written in capitals, or shouted in a speech. That seems a drawback to digit-talk.

    And I simply do not understand texting, and have never had a satisfying instant text or message exchange. Those experiences to me (and they have not been many), just make me wish I were talking face to face, with the thousand-times more nuance of tone, gesture and expression.

    Plus, one weird part of instant communication: why why why do people want to be connected all the time. I am going to make a guess that is charitable to the new generation and to humanity: text connecting is a kind of adolescent activity that helps one with the troubles of growing up. But adults–who needs it? Only business people who need to maintain a complex chain of round-the-clock events.

    1. Read my post of Feb 9 about “Texting” that I link to Gitomer, who says it so well and better than I ever could.

      My rule of thumb on emailing: Never allow the outbox to send automatically. You need to press the send — which sometimes saves your butt.

      And why do we want to be connected? I think it’s human nature. We just can’t help it. We want to eat, sleep, have sex and connect, not necessarily in that order. All the time.

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