I cannot cope with all this social media. I’m handing in my texting thumb.
We now seem to have approximately 1000 different means of communicating and it’s gotten out of hand.
Back in the day when there was just the phone, life was simpler. There’d be the odd answer machine message. It was thrilling to think you even HAD a message. Who could it possibly be?! Everyone I know lives in this house.
Those were the days when you’d answer the phone not knowing who it was. It seems like a small thing but nowadays, with all the information about another person we have to hand – including their name when they call us, conversations start at what used to be the midpoint. We pick up the phone and start with “Hey! So Tenerife looked like fun!”
Back in the day, you didn’t know who was calling until they told you. These days, if we don’t know who the caller is, we’re more suspicious than an old person trying hummus for the first time.
Then of course the phone went mobile and then, with the invention of the "text message" it gave us the option of never speaking to anyone ever again. I remember very excitedly checking my One2One flip phone to see if I could send texts and praise be, I could. The only problem was, none of my friends phones could receive them so we were stuck with the very boring social protocol of having to actually call our friends if we wanted to speak with them. YAWN.
At the same time, a colleague of mine, who I shared an office with was working on something called a “website”. He took great pleasure in showing me the “home page” from the “website” but because the dial-up internet was so slow at our company, every page only half-loaded. After about 45 minutes of making encouraging noises whilst staring at a half-blank screen, I asked “But... what is it?” He tried to explain but he might as well have been explaining string theory. I just couldn’t wrap my head around why you would want half-blank, half-text-filled images on your computer.
Meanwhile, telecommunications were galloping ahead and soon all phones we’re able to send and receive texts although they were limited to about 140 characters (sound familiar). People also started to set up something called an “email account”.
At first, the main purpose of an “email account” was as a dumping ground for unwanted spam emails.
We never knew each other’s email address because we didn’t really understand how it worked and what use these email thingies would be. We were still doing this barmy thing of talking to each other if we wanted to, you know… speak.
But eventually, I, along with many others got an “email account" and had many happy days trying to work out how to attach documents, send group emails and set up spam filters.
Meanwhile, texting was taking on a life of its own and as more people got cell phones (even characters in soap operas…. eventually), another phenomenon crept in. When I was a kid I knew the phone numbers of all my friends. I can still recall my home phone number from back then too. 01 555 4368. But with the mobile phone and its infinite contacts storage (for up to 99 people), this memorisation was no longer needed. Today, I don't know anyone's number. Some people don't even know their own numbers! Ever met someone like that? They go to give you their number then realise they need the scrap of paper it's written on. They rummage through their bag for it as I politely smile telling them, "Take your time. No worries" but inside, I'm like a raging madwomen screaming, "How can you not know you're own fucking number, you fucking moron!!".
Meanwhile, with the introduction of unlimited texting, we were soon using them, not just for firming up social arrangements but, as we developed the texting dexterity of a squirrel shelling a nut, a huge chunk of our social interactions began to depend on them. Once the service providers started dangling the offer of unlimited minutes too, the home phone was soon resting in peace in an open casket with only people born before 1965 mourning its passing.
I got a home phone a couple of years ago because my mum told me to - "for safety’s sake". She’s the only person who calls me on it. I think she was trying to create a “bat phone” situation.
There was soon another addition to the mobile which meant our heads would be permanently buried in its bluey white glow during every spare minute we had, making people-watching a thing only creepy men and those without mobile phones did - Music.
When I bought What’s The Story, Morning Glory?, the Oasis album, I couldn’t wait to get that CD into my Discman. Yes. You heard me right. A Discman. A portable CD player. Now it seems absurd to do anything other than download your music from the sky whenever and wherever you please.
And with the development of apps, the mobile phone has become not just a desirable toy but a necessary business tool. As someone who’s self-employed, it’s been invaluable. It’s become a note book, a sat nav, a laptop oh and occasionally (but rarely) a phone. It’s become essential socially too as anyone who’s ever tried to co-ordinate a group of friends meeting in a park or on a beach will know.
Many a time I’ve been standing in the middle of a soft ball pitch or make-shift volley ball court, phone in one hand, waving with the other “Can you see me now? How about now? What are you wearing? I see you! Are you wearing a hat?! Oh that’s not you. Shit, who was I waving at then?”
“How did we cope before?” people often lament. I’ll tell you how. You said you were gonna be somewhere and you bloody well turned up. The text message in particular has facilitated more last minute withdrawals than the Catholic church.
So anyway, voicemail, the odd answer machine message, text and email was just about manageable but then the social media Tyrannosaurus Rex smashed its way into our lives and never left. Like a demanding brat that can never be satiated, Facebook is a black hole, absorbing matter, light and ALL your remaining free time.
And once internet techie whizzes found ways to put pictures, then gifs, then sound then video online and bandwidth allowances expanded, the ways and means of communication grew exponentially… and disastrously and of course now it’s all available on your phone too so you can stay in touch on the move i.e. never escape.
So these days, to make sure you’ve replied to all your messages, you have to check your answer machine, voicemail, text, Facebook, email, twitter DMs, Gmail (everyone’s got at least two email accounts, right?), Linkin (For when Facebook just seems like too much fun) and a multitude of other inlets.
Is it me or sometimes, does it get too much!
I’ve just been told by someone I know that I’m crap at replying to texts. I know! I can’t stay on top of it all. I’m drowning in a sea of tweets and IMs and voicemails. The only thing I reply to immediately are emails because they’re usually work-related and important but it’s so easy to miss a communication from someone and the next thing you know, they’re getting paranoid that you’re snubbing them. We’ve all been there haven’t we? You send a text and when you don’t hear back immediately start concocting a whole story about how a) you’ve inadvertently upset the other person b) they’ve died but haven’t had the decency to tell you or worse c) they’re busy. Then we give ourselves free reign to paranoidly speculate as to what they could possibly be doing that’s more important than replying to our hilarious text about omelettes.
I would love to say, enough! I’d love to say, no more. But it’s pointless. This is the world we live in and in many ways, it’s a fabulous thing that our planet has shrunk so dramatically in terms of how we communicate. For example, living in the States, Skype has become my 100% favourite website. Because of that and Facebook, loved ones are but a mouse click away.
As this is the way things are and are unlikely to change, I’ve told myself to not feel bad if I can’t (or don’t want to) keep up with it all.
After all, if something’s really urgent, people will call you. The day that someone tweets the police to say “Having a break in. Send someone! #FML” will be the point of no return but I think we’re a long way from that.
A thought I had about our data and messages overload is that, with all the access we have to what people are thinking, feeling and doing, it’s almost like we’re creating a virtual collective consciousness which, some spiritualists would argue is exactly where we’ve come from.
Just a thought.
I saw this and liked it. A campaign to keep emails at fivesentenc.es or less.
Oh, I did a stand up set on the Late, Late Show on Craig Ferguson this week! I'm on at the end of the show.