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I NOTICED THE TYPO AROUND 10:30 P.M. I WAS already home. There was nothing I could do about it.

For better or worse, modern communication technology makes contact ‘inescapable’

I NOTICED THE TYPO AROUND 10:30 P.M. I WAS already home. There was nothing I could do about it. The next morning’s paper would have a misspelled name in the front page story’s lead.

Distraught, I did what comes naturally: I plastered my disappointment across my Facebook account.

Ten minutes later, I got an instant message from someone still in the office. “I saw your status update. I can fix that for you if you want.”

And so, because of the miracle of modern communication technology, there were no typos in my story the next day.

It made me realize how public we make our lives. And yet, at the same time, it seems as if we are becoming, individually, more and more isolated.

Joseph Priestley, far-sighted for a theologian and scientist of 18th-century England, once said, “The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” It rings true today, in the era of Twitter and AIM, Facebook walls and MySpace comments. E-mail almost seems like a dinosaur — a dinosaur of expression and articulation, where thoughts may be carefully formulated in a box larger than four lines.

Think about it: When was the last time you talked to a friend? Perhaps you text messaged each other, a process which usually involves an exchange of fewer than 150 characters on each side. Or maybe you opted for the IM route, exchanging LOLs over a hyperlink.

Now, when was the last time you had a meaningful conversation with a friend?

Yet despite the lack of meaningful exchanges, contact with other people is almost inescapable.

This summer, I went on a four-day, 45-mile backpacking trip. Halfway in, I crested the 12,000-foot-high Glen Pass. The vista was 360 degrees of treeless mountains; the wind whistling through their barren boulders; birds circling far below me.

And on the saddle of the pass, a lone backpacker stood talking into his satellite phone.

“Can you hear me?” he yelled into the device. “I’m on Glen Pass, man. Glen Pass. Yeah. I’ll be home in like three days.”

The top of the world is where men have migrated to find their souls and to rekindle their minds. It has been said that one climbs the mountain because one will return to the valley changed by what he has seen.

I saw a man on a cell phone.

I posted about it on my blog when I returned.

Heather Billings is a senior at Fresno State majoring in mass communication and journalism with emphases in print journalism and digital media.

  • junior

    Excellent column and so true. I remember when I first got a cell phone, like eons after everyone I knew already had Blackberry’s or iPhones. All I had was a bottom-of-the-line Motorola pre-paid paper weight. Someone told me that day, “Welcome to the new millennium.” It made me wonder if I even wanted to be part of the new millennium.
    Perhaps a better example is when I was in high school and my parents got me my first pager. Remember those? My girlfriend hated it because my boss would constantly page me to come into work and I would usually fold because I can’t say no. One day, she told me to just turn it off, and I felt a lot better after that. Still, I had to make up some kind of excuse as to why I didn’t respond. I would say that’s the great thing about text messaging. It gives you time to think of a reason why you couldn’t talk to someone. I think I’m running out of excuses though.

  • junior

    Excellent column and so true. I remember when I first got a cell phone, like eons after everyone I knew already had Blackberry’s or iPhones. All I had was a bottom-of-the-line Motorola pre-paid paper weight. Someone told me that day, “Welcome to the new millennium.” It made me wonder if I even wanted to be part of the new millennium.
    Perhaps a better example is when I was in high school and my parents got me my first pager. Remember those? My girlfriend hated it because my boss would constantly page me to come into work and I would usually fold because I can’t say no. One day, she told me to just turn it off, and I felt a lot better after that. Still, I had to make up some kind of excuse as to why I didn’t respond. I would say that’s the great thing about text messaging. It gives you time to think of a reason why you couldn’t talk to someone. I think I’m running out of excuses though.

  • Charles W. Frank, “Chip”

    This is kind of rambling from one thing to another; not your typical, very pointed writing. Getting Senior Daze?

    I beg to differ on the “inescapable” contact thing. People who know me, also very well know that I can just drop off the map. I didn’t speak to anyone for 2 weeks this summer. I barely speak to anyone now (I do a lot more commenting and typing like this than I do talk). If this is called contact, maybe I am in contact with people inescapably.

    When was the last time I had a meaningful conversation with a friend?
    Always.

    I don’t do the MySuck thing, nor the temporary friends thing. (Just commented on The Collegian’s new presence on MySuck.) Too many people out there have lost the true meaning of friend. A few years ago I gave this some definite definition in my life: A friend is someone who is there for you in a time of need, no matter issues or conflict. People who are self-centered enough to talk about themselves, or turn you away in personal conflict, when you really need a friend, aren’t really friends, but just-so acquaintances.

    Call whomever you want, whatever you want, but if you don’t know me, don’t request me as a friend or contact on any social networking website (I only use Facebook, for the most part). Seems more and more like society is defining itself not only by lacking relationships, but by the whole “It’s not what you know, but who you know” adage. So, then, a “friend” on MySpace that just requested you as a “friend” sends a message that he or she is out of a job, and looking. Do you recommend this “friend,” though you don’t know the person? Is this person a friend, or in not recommending someone you don’t know and can’t vouch for, are you being a “friend?”

    That’s my take on contact. I’m known to rudely reject requests on social networking websites for people from high school or college whom I don’t know, and never had any contact with at any of these institutions. Why is somebody a friend just because you went to school with them?

    Aside from this illicit commentary on the nature of contact and friends in regards to the rhetorical question posed …

    You saw a guy on a pass doing the “Can you hear me now,” bit into a SatPhone? Doesn’t that strike anyone as the anti-thesis to “getting away,” and the noted bit: “The top of the world is where men have migrated to find their souls and to rekindle their minds. It has been said that one climbs the mountain because one will return to the valley changed by what he has seen.” What’s the point?

    I see half the point as being unplugged and away from it in the first place … sounds like the guy was defeating the purpose of his own trek. I was recently working with a company that didn’t know what it was doing, and the tech guy, who was on “vacation” used his mobile device to respond, in a likewise fashion, not knowing what the hell he was talking about. How’s that a vacation (especially to get the “dumb f*uk” response he got from me)? How do you change your perspective or view, or hit the reset button by calling someone from a goddamn SatPhone to brag about being at the top of a pass? What’s the point or purpose? Did he feel uncomfortable in the presence of others’ hiking by, that he was on his own (similar going to the movies and shuffling your feet, or playing with your mobile while waiting for people you’re waiting for to show up, or calling someone, so that it doesn’t look like you’re there by yourself – just social stigma)? (The whole ‘I’m cool, I got friends, I’m just standing here waiting’ routine.) Shit man, go read a book at the book shop while waiting … no reason or way to enrich life by being a statue with a cell phone.

    So you’ll have to excuse me in my obtuse opinions, when I say that I disagree with modern communication making contact inescapable. You’ll always run into contact with people. Even if you’re a hermit on your own remote piece of land, eventually some brave explorer without fear of shotguns will bother you. But so far as electronic (modern technology) communications … just turn the sh*t off and leave it be … experience life ‘unconnected.’

    I have the beautiful experience of working for my favorite boss. He is an Executive (owner of his own company, with the whole 9-partners gang, etc…). His business is food production / manufacturing. A few years ago when I first worked for him, he made a note to me that I can’t send an e-mail to an un-connected, old-school plant manager, who was out in the plant, and expect a response in a reasonable time, especially considering at the end of the day, we knew she skipped out to go home rather than checking e-mail.

    There are a lot of people like this. The lesson I learned in this is that mobile / remote communications are not only insincere, where you can’t tell inflection or demeanor, but that you get things done 90% more effectually and faster with in-person communications. Seeing and speaking to a person’s face is a lot more trustworthy, overall, psychologically, than this electronic crap.

    My cell phone is old. I don’t feel like replacing it with a new-fangled thing, and I’m a geek to boot (though the thought is sometimes cool, like throwing my custom-programmed Google Android in the faces of iPhone toting John & Jane Doe who look all alike, despite wearing different skins – it’s just psychology). I’m thinking about getting a home phone without answering machine. If you can’t get me via e-mail or home phone … I say p*ss-off and let me be – that’s exactly the purpose and point. Who want’s to be bothered 24/7? Who wants to be connected all the time? Who cares, aside from those that have no life and can’t be comfortable being themselves without listening to gossip or having someone by their side, or on the phone constantly (not comfortable or don’t know themselves)? Obviously I don’t care. There are many other people out there with the same attitude, in general (probably many fewer words on the topic though).

    Just read back through my (illegitimate) rant … half off-topic. So I’ll re-iterate my point. Sometimes modern technologies which are meant to make you inescapable just plain suck and are stupid, stupid, stupid, dumb, dumb, dumb. I disagree because I can disappear and not be found, snap of the fingers. I can do that on-campus (in fact, I actually make a point of being a ghost). And all you have to do is turn it off, leave it somewhere. I once threw my cell-phone out the window while waiting to cross the SF Bay Bridge – smashing it on a concrete partition (I kept the sim & data cards). And all of my “friends” are tru-blu friends. I don’t have to worry about meaningful contact, because I’ve made it a point in my life.

  • Charles W. Frank, “Chip”

    This is kind of rambling from one thing to another; not your typical, very pointed writing. Getting Senior Daze?

    I beg to differ on the “inescapable” contact thing. People who know me, also very well know that I can just drop off the map. I didn’t speak to anyone for 2 weeks this summer. I barely speak to anyone now (I do a lot more commenting and typing like this than I do talk). If this is called contact, maybe I am in contact with people inescapably.

    When was the last time I had a meaningful conversation with a friend?
    Always.

    I don’t do the MySuck thing, nor the temporary friends thing. (Just commented on The Collegian’s new presence on MySuck.) Too many people out there have lost the true meaning of friend. A few years ago I gave this some definite definition in my life: A friend is someone who is there for you in a time of need, no matter issues or conflict. People who are self-centered enough to talk about themselves, or turn you away in personal conflict, when you really need a friend, aren’t really friends, but just-so acquaintances.

    Call whomever you want, whatever you want, but if you don’t know me, don’t request me as a friend or contact on any social networking website (I only use Facebook, for the most part). Seems more and more like society is defining itself not only by lacking relationships, but by the whole “It’s not what you know, but who you know” adage. So, then, a “friend” on MySpace that just requested you as a “friend” sends a message that he or she is out of a job, and looking. Do you recommend this “friend,” though you don’t know the person? Is this person a friend, or in not recommending someone you don’t know and can’t vouch for, are you being a “friend?”

    That’s my take on contact. I’m known to rudely reject requests on social networking websites for people from high school or college whom I don’t know, and never had any contact with at any of these institutions. Why is somebody a friend just because you went to school with them?

    Aside from this illicit commentary on the nature of contact and friends in regards to the rhetorical question posed …

    You saw a guy on a pass doing the “Can you hear me now,” bit into a SatPhone? Doesn’t that strike anyone as the anti-thesis to “getting away,” and the noted bit: “The top of the world is where men have migrated to find their souls and to rekindle their minds. It has been said that one climbs the mountain because one will return to the valley changed by what he has seen.” What’s the point?

    I see half the point as being unplugged and away from it in the first place … sounds like the guy was defeating the purpose of his own trek. I was recently working with a company that didn’t know what it was doing, and the tech guy, who was on “vacation” used his mobile device to respond, in a likewise fashion, not knowing what the hell he was talking about. How’s that a vacation (especially to get the “dumb f*uk” response he got from me)? How do you change your perspective or view, or hit the reset button by calling someone from a goddamn SatPhone to brag about being at the top of a pass? What’s the point or purpose? Did he feel uncomfortable in the presence of others’ hiking by, that he was on his own (similar going to the movies and shuffling your feet, or playing with your mobile while waiting for people you’re waiting for to show up, or calling someone, so that it doesn’t look like you’re there by yourself – just social stigma)? (The whole ‘I’m cool, I got friends, I’m just standing here waiting’ routine.) Shit man, go read a book at the book shop while waiting … no reason or way to enrich life by being a statue with a cell phone.

    So you’ll have to excuse me in my obtuse opinions, when I say that I disagree with modern communication making contact inescapable. You’ll always run into contact with people. Even if you’re a hermit on your own remote piece of land, eventually some brave explorer without fear of shotguns will bother you. But so far as electronic (modern technology) communications … just turn the sh*t off and leave it be … experience life ‘unconnected.’

    I have the beautiful experience of working for my favorite boss. He is an Executive (owner of his own company, with the whole 9-partners gang, etc…). His business is food production / manufacturing. A few years ago when I first worked for him, he made a note to me that I can’t send an e-mail to an un-connected, old-school plant manager, who was out in the plant, and expect a response in a reasonable time, especially considering at the end of the day, we knew she skipped out to go home rather than checking e-mail.

    There are a lot of people like this. The lesson I learned in this is that mobile / remote communications are not only insincere, where you can’t tell inflection or demeanor, but that you get things done 90% more effectually and faster with in-person communications. Seeing and speaking to a person’s face is a lot more trustworthy, overall, psychologically, than this electronic crap.

    My cell phone is old. I don’t feel like replacing it with a new-fangled thing, and I’m a geek to boot (though the thought is sometimes cool, like throwing my custom-programmed Google Android in the faces of iPhone toting John & Jane Doe who look all alike, despite wearing different skins – it’s just psychology). I’m thinking about getting a home phone without answering machine. If you can’t get me via e-mail or home phone … I say p*ss-off and let me be – that’s exactly the purpose and point. Who want’s to be bothered 24/7? Who wants to be connected all the time? Who cares, aside from those that have no life and can’t be comfortable being themselves without listening to gossip or having someone by their side, or on the phone constantly (not comfortable or don’t know themselves)? Obviously I don’t care. There are many other people out there with the same attitude, in general (probably many fewer words on the topic though).

    Just read back through my (illegitimate) rant … half off-topic. So I’ll re-iterate my point. Sometimes modern technologies which are meant to make you inescapable just plain suck and are stupid, stupid, stupid, dumb, dumb, dumb. I disagree because I can disappear and not be found, snap of the fingers. I can do that on-campus (in fact, I actually make a point of being a ghost). And all you have to do is turn it off, leave it somewhere. I once threw my cell-phone out the window while waiting to cross the SF Bay Bridge – smashing it on a concrete partition (I kept the sim & data cards). And all of my “friends” are tru-blu friends. I don’t have to worry about meaningful contact, because I’ve made it a point in my life.