Yelping into the Digital Future:
Jack Crawford, my maternal grandfather, didn’t use the telephone. It annoyed him. He did his palavering face to face. He never learned to drive either, said he didn’t want to be bothered putting the damned thing in the garage at night.
Nor was Mad Jack, as we grandkids called him well behind his back, big on television. He read books, by Shakespeare, Dickens and that lot.
When my brothers, cousins and I visited him and our grandmother, Mum Mum, in the summer, there was no TV set on the premises. We were expected to entertain ourselves outside, out of sight. We caught crabs, biked, and collecting reusable bottles by the side of the road to pay for vanilla cokes in town.
Not exactly a chatterbox as an octogenarian, Jack was worth listening to when he chose to hold forth. He told us how he made the acquaintance of Sitting Bull and about the time the lobsters escaped from the kitchen. He remembered where he was the day Garfield was shot (the president, not the cat). He had sat once within spitting distance of Queen Victoria. Jack’s stories wouldn’t have travelled as well across the phone lines.
I drive, watch TV and use the land line some, but I don’t own a cell phone or a cell phone holster. I don’t covet my neighbor’s i-Phone Apps. My son’s friends look at me as if I’d announced that I prefer a corn cob to Scott’s paper products. Who knows what they’re calling me while I’m in the john.
We Americans sure talk a lot nowadays, a condition exacerbated by the ubiquitous cell phone, among other alleged communications advances. We talk therefore we are. We talk in the car, on the treadmill, as we’re shopping or walking in the woods. We talk during movies and sermons. A Congressman and a Supreme Court Justice recently talked while the President was talking to the nation . I suspect one reason we’re reading newspapers less, or anything much longer than a Tweet, is that it’s hard to talk and read at the same time.
We don’t talk to one another, we talk past each other, and not just inside the Beltway. We all know people who couldn’t be bothered listening to anyone but themselves. They ask questions so they can interrupt the answer and launch into their own well-rehearsed monologue. I was at Mass not too long ago and the priest, who was totally old school, gave a sermon on the proper way for parishioners to comport themselves during the Eucharist. The subsequent performance of his flock at Communion was a stunning rebuke: if anyone had listened to a word he had just said, they must have left early (which the faithful are wont to do in these enlightened times).
I once sat behind two fellow homo sapiens on a train from Connecticut to Washington, D.C., and they talked the entire way, non-stop, without so much as a pregnant pause to punctuate the marathon. At first I was annoyed. Then I was enthralled. Could they keep this effluvial blather up? Would they be immortalized in the Guinness Book of World Records? In the end, I lost interest. They weren’t discussing anything meaty, like whether there is wifi in heaven. Nutritionally speaking, the dialogue was Cheetos floating in warm Hawaiian Punch. Besides, it was soon clear they could do this all the way to the Pacific, easy as pie. For this pair, talking was as natural as breathing. It was the one time I wished I owned an iPod.
The other day I was reading a newspaper that quoted an advertising executive thusly, “The communications world is changing every minute.” Now there’s a scary notion. For all I know, he could be dead right. I have to confess that I’m on Linkedin at work (they “suggested” I sign up). And am I ever connected: a guy I went to elementary school with linked me right up and tried to sell me long term care insurance.
While I wasn’t paying attention, it’s gotten well beyond Facebook and Twitter. There’s Loopt, Digg and Fark (not to be confused with that South American terrorist group, as far as I know), to name just a few. My personal favorite is Yelp. Are we Yelping yet? I don’t know about you, but I could use a good Yelp.