Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Started reading a collection of essays by Rebecca Solnit the other day and came across one that I could really relate to. It’s about how things used to be. In the ‘90s. You know — the good ol’ days.
What she’s really getting at in her look at how technology and social media have affected us is that our consciousness has changed. Our very consciousness, people. Consider the hand-written letter.
These used to exist. They did. We used to sit down for half an hour or so and compose letters to friends and loved ones. Then we sealed them up in envelopes and licked a stamp. (It’s true — you had to lick stamps back then.) Then we popped them in a mailbox, and the recipient had to wait a few days for it to arrive. And it was exciting to receive a letter. You looked forward to it. Plus, most of us had a reasonable expectation that we’d get a letter or two each week. We had actual friends who weren’t just “friends.”
Solnit points out that when email first came along, it was used a lot like letters. We put some thought into them. We hashed things out. We sat down for half an hour or so and composed the emails. Why? Because we had things to say to our correspondents. We wanted them to know what we were thinking and doing, what our plans were for the coming weeks and months. The email wasn’t just a way to convey a nugget of information.
But something changed when the cell phone came along and texting became possible. If you could text a message, why bother writing out a whole email? Instead of, “I’m going to be downtown later, and it’d be terrific if we could get together for lunch” morphed into “Where U at?” Never mind hand-written letters. Those became quaint, almost pretentious efforts to reclaim a past that never existed (except that it did).
My father used to rail that young people had no idea what they had lost. Suddenly I can see what he was getting at (though his regret was that he could no longer say politically incorrect things in public). A young person today doesn’t realize that our consciousness used to be patient and unhurried. There was time to be alone. You could be off the grid simply by leaving your house for a while, taking a walk in the woods, slipping into a movie theater, taking a nap. You didn’t worry that you were missing something or that your status needed updating. Your attention wasn’t split a hundred and five different ways. And you didn’t care what the statuses of your “friends” were either. They had their own privacy to tend, and you didn’t mind at all.
All of this has evolved over the past twenty years. That’s it. In just twenty years we’ve gone from relative simplicity and a workable pace of life to Blade Runner: The Prequel. Shoot, I was practically Huck Finn, and not all that long ago.
On the other hand, my mother is approaching 81 and has a Samsung smartphone. The other day she said she was thinking of earning a little extra money by becoming an Uber driver.