Postal mail is to email as email is to ______; text your answer to…


With the recent unfortunate passing of Steve Jobs, Apple mastermind extraordinaire, I thought it an appropriate time to discuss the dizzying advances of technology and their impact to our lifestyles.  As the title suggests, we’re going to talk about our communications; viewed over distance in miles and years.

The subject came to mind as I was referring some friends to their emails to review the invitation I sent them to my annual Halloween BBQ.  Two of the invitees demurred, stating that they had too many unread emails to find the one I sent them (set aside the ability to sort by date or sender, gentle reader, for it’s not entirely germane to my point).

In one case, there were a mere 400-plus emails piled up.  In the other mailbox, they were over 16,000!  I didn’t even know a mailbox would allow you to hold 16,000 emails (I joked they had probably notified her she was out of space, but it was lost in her inbox).  I had to send the invite to her boyfriend instead.

Both of these young ladies are very much children of the smart phone era, so email use and manipulation cannot be strange to them.  The only other conclusion to be drawn is that they do most of their communication now via texting.

The onslaught of texting is the next evolution from the short-lived social networking communication method.  While Facebook posts and tweets offer some large-scale messaging options, you only have to browse a few Facebook pages to see many of these conversations should have taken place “offline”.  The potential bad feelings or bad image that can be created by some of the more…emotional…posts make this an ill-conceived platform for a lot of conversations.

What’s startling is the speed of the metamorphosis.  It took over two centuries for postal mail to loosen its grasp over distance communication, the telephone notwithstanding.  It took less than a decade for social networking to start eating into email’s newly entrenched domain and in just a few years, texting has begun to dominate interpersonal communications.

This has led to some societally unfavorable changes.  The US Post Office faces a difficult future of diminishing mail usage which they currently address by trying to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Road travel has become even more dangerous as drivers who once only needed one hand to be distracted while driving and talking on the phone now need both (hurry up, cars that drive themselves) in order to type their “critical” texts.  And, of course, indignant fossils like me bemoan the increasing loss of vocabulary and spelling skills.  In the continued push to create even shorter ways to type words, could we be coming full circle to the cavemen and soon end up communicating only in grunts?

The only surety is that there is yet another technological change just ahead.  Given the speed of the changes so far, perhaps it’s already happened and I just haven’t noticed yet!

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