Does anyone remember what life was like before the chat room, text message, tweet or social media Web site? You know, when people actually talked as opposed to sending typed messages out into the great electronic void, completely lacking tone, inflection, and, dare I say it: feeling?
I think it is apropos to be discussing this topic today of all days: the day set aside in celebration of the birth of iconic civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. His "I Have a Dream" speech is one of the most passionate and prolific ever given; I don't think it would have had quite the same impact had it been delivered via Twitter or Facebook. We should be thankful that those modes of technology did not exist on August 28, 1963.
My point, as we celebrate what would have been Dr. King's 83rd birthday, is that human speech has become somewhat compromised in the almost 50 years since he gave that speech. We no longer converse with each other face-to-face as our parents and grandparents did. We've forsaken that mode of communication in favour of 140 characters or less in most cases, and the ambiguous nature of an e-mail, chat room or social media page. Yes, these have become vital modes of communication, but they are all lacking one important element: tone. All these methods are devoid of emotion and inflection, making it impossible during the majority of "conversations" to glean any emotion from the exchange. Sure, we have a plethora of silly "emoticons" that are meant to stand in for feelings, but they are hopelessly inadequate substitutions for the real deal. I use them because I have no choice, but there is absolutely no way a smiley face is going to express what I am actually feeling when I speak to someone.
The more the toneless modes of communication pervade my life, the more they piss me off. There are days when I literally do not speak to anyone; my communication takes place exclusively on Skype, Facebook and a couple other forms of voiceless messaging. Sure, most days I'm grateful for the fact that I can sit here in my pajamas typing a blog entry or performing my duties as a writer, as opposed to worrying about what to wear to work. But, on the flip side, I crave the sound of a human voice more than I ever have. I never thought I would say, er, type that, but it's true. I want to hear laughter, not read "LOL"; I want to hear the smile in a person's voice, not see :-) typed after a sentence. I want to feel the actual emotions, not interpret them with my sometimes overactive imagination. The real deal means more to me now than it ever has. And when I can't have it, I feel bereft; there will never be a substitute for the human voice.
Despite all my bitching, I have had no choice but to make peace with modern forms of communication; not that they make me happy, but who among us has a choice? I've made my share of gaffes in chat rooms and in messages on Skype and Facebook, but who hasn't? I may take mine a bit more to heart than others, but I know I am not alone in that. The best I can do is remember to insert that smiley face or whichever emoticon is appropriate, and move on. The other thing I do is repeat to myself, over and over, that there is no tone or emotion, and that's just the way it is. I'm all too aware of the irony that my laptop's keyboard will give out long before I wear down the battery of yet another cordless phone.
I leave you with this piece of advice: whatever you do, don't type angry.