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Illustration by Brad Reno
Instant Message Overload
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Ron Marr: mug
By Ron Marr
Can you hear me now?
For nearly two decades, a disease of infinite magnitude and unimaginable proportions has afflicted our population. This insidious plague, if left untreated, wreaks havoc upon the verbal and written communication centers of the infected. By the final stages of such cellular degeneration, the victim’s ability to converse with their fellow man is reminiscent of the discourse shared by our cave-dwelling ancestors.
Word usage and sentence structure become virtually nonexistent, replaced by grunts, growls, monosyllabic abbreviations, and the occasional sideways smiley face or frowning emoticon.
It’s a cell phone pandemic, an internet insanity, an e-mail epidemic, an instant message misery. Never have so many been able to communicate so easily such a wealth of mindless drivel.
It’s very odd how our culture has, in the space of a few short years, become utterly dependent on being “in touch.” No wonder society seems so frenzied, frenetic, and flat-out dumb as a squirrel. How could one either relax, think, focus, or create while surrounded by a self-imposed cacophony of beeps, whistles, dings, rattles, buzzing, and customized ringtones? I am somehow doubtful that intellectual or emotional evolution is enhanced by countless spam bombardments hawking discount ratchet sets, surefire diet plans, and Nigerian con games.
Many would argue that our bionic repartee allows us to get more done, to understand each other more fully. Such is nothing but wishful thinking, as it seems our penchant for instantaneous interchange has led to involvement in myriad activities and distractions that should normally warrant zero attention. Because we are inexorably linked by the wireless umbilical, nothing can wait until tomorrow. We are at the beck and call of employers, co-workers, pushy salespeople, and forgotten figures from our distant pasts with whom we shared so little that we purposely lost their phone numbers and mailing addresses.
And, rather than achieving a greater understanding of our fellow man, our dependence upon electronic doohickies has made us more isolated and distant. Comprehension and appreciation of other ways and other thoughts arrive when encountered firsthand. It does not occur while sitting behind a plasma screen and typing “LOL” onto a keypad.
As is true with so many of our scientific advances, that which was intended to simplify life has led to a lessening of our humanity. Almost immediately after they hit the market, the instruments enabling our groundbreaking connectivity ceased to be a tool and became a lifestyle. The insatiable urge to be communally tethered via keyboard, laptop, satellites, teensy handsets, and large, microwave-spitting towers has led to a rather disturbing form of brain atrophy.
I wasn’t kidding when I said that many now possess the articulation skills of our Neanderthal forebears. We’ve come full circle, and it ain’t pretty. We might not utter grunts and groans, but we do send indecipherable text messages, usually of three letters or less and often free of those pesky vowels. We might not scrawl crude paintings on the walls of the cave, but we do send animated icons that are meant to convey our feelings. We might not cut a notch in the tree so that others can find the water hole, but we forward idiotic photos and letters around the globe with reckless abandon.
Our ability to spell, punctuate, or speak in anything resembling a clear and cogent sentence has deteriorated at an alarming rate. These skills are frequently viewed as useless. Why not, when all we need to do is peck at the keys and hit the send button? I’m fairly certain Coco the Ape had a greater grasp of language than many of today’s text message and e-mail addicts.
Truly, I am not a Luddite. While I don’t use a cell phone (gasp), I am on the computer far too often. I use e-mail, and let’s be honest here, I use it in part because it’s easy and I’m lazy. Plus, as an editor and scribbler, I wouldn’t have any income without it.
However, such excuses excuse nothing. Partial culpability does not relieve one of accountability. I too have played a role in the dumbingdown of our species. The best I can do now is to put my mockery where my mouth is and give technological innovations the same regard I give a hoe, chain saw, toaster, or screwdriver. Perspective is needed, for these devices were not designed so people could “stay connected.” They were designed primarily for work, research, and the gathering of information.
That last one is important. I might need something to talk about next time I’m sitting on my neighbor’s porch, drinking a glass of lemonade, and having a real conversation.