WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Is Self-Publishing His New Novel

No e-grets? Or, The Way We Whir

Cracked Smartphone5

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.


Don’t forget: Town Father is on sale for 99 pennies through Friday.

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20 comments on “No e-grets? Or, The Way We Whir

  1. islandeditions
    June 16, 2016

    Okay, you win for best blog post title EVAH!

  2. kingmidget
    June 16, 2016

    Yes. There are so many different ways to look at this. One way I do is that 20 years ago, when you got together with friends, you spent your time together just with those people, without distractions. Having good conversations and spending quality time together. Now … those kind of get-togethers don’t exist anymore. Instead, everybody has their phone and they’re either distracted by their phone or things that are on their phone are what they want to talk about. “Oh, hey, did you see this video on Facebook.” “Look at this picture I took of my dinner yesterday.” “Who knows who that actor was, let’s not try to figure it out on our own, let’s ask Siri.”

    We no longer have get-togethers with the people that are right in front of us. Instead, we are constantly distracted by things and people that aren’t even there.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 16, 2016

      You’re so right. I’ve even heard of families having conversations by text because they’re not comfortable talking to each other. Dysfunctional? You bet.

    • pinklightsabre
      June 16, 2016

      I love this observation too, and it’s important because it’s obviously a generational perspective, as we straddle different worlds (the previous, ‘analogue’ world, of handwritten, of being more present with one another, to today’s world). There was some kind of quote by an Apple executive or someone, when the smart phones came out, asking why would you need to do X on your phone and the reply, something like, why wouldn’t you?

      For my anti-tech rants, it’s just that — that it’s changed our consciousness, our behavior, and I don’t think for the better. You see it watching people anywhere and everywhere: for me, it’s sitting behind someone at a left hand turn waiting for the green arrow, knowing they’re looking at something at their lap instead and I’ll have to toot the horn to wake them up, move.

      • kingmidget
        June 16, 2016

        My kids (18 and 21) are completely incapable of figuring out how to get from point a to point b. Their phones tell them how to do that. Nobody remembers phone numbers anymore. Nobody makes any effort to figure things out anymore.

        Smartphones are destroying us one app at a time.

      • Kevin Brennan
        June 16, 2016

        I hope you didn’t write that comment on a smartphone … The irony would be too much for my head!

      • kingmidget
        June 16, 2016

        Ummm

    • pinklightsabre
      June 16, 2016

      You talk about your kids not knowing how to navigate, I’m 45 — had to toggle between some obscure Customs offices and logistics warehouses outside SeaTac airport yesterday, and the people I dealt with all just assumed I had a GPS to find the various places and I didn’t, so they gave me a printout, and sure enough, I screwed up a few times. Probably could have used that GPS, I guess — but I hate it. I’ll sit down before I go somewhere and map it out (on my laptop) but then write it in a notepad so I can commit it to memory, to have a framework of where I am that’s not limited to a small window. It’s that small window to the world that’s making our brains smaller too.

      • Audrey Driscoll
        June 16, 2016

        Ah, some post-apocalyptic day we analogue types will be in demand because we can actually read maps and we know where north is. And can do mental arithmetic.

      • pinklightsabre
        June 16, 2016

        Amen, Audrey: here’s to that. As I type on my phone.

      • Kevin Brennan
        June 17, 2016

        One more reason to appreciate our opposable thumbs!

      • Kevin Brennan
        June 17, 2016

        Yes, I long for the day we take over the world. Should be soon, judging by the state of things!

  3. Green Embers
    June 16, 2016

    I still actually spend a long time composing emails, even for simple stuff. 😆
    Agreed though, shortened messages are great for in the moment things but seeing things with thought behind them is also great. It’s why I like reading blogs. It’s like reading open letters that the majority of people put a lot of thought behind more so than Twitter or a Facebook post.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 16, 2016

      I was going to make that point about blog posts being our new substitute for letters. It’s true. The difference is now we want strangers to read our correspondence!

      • Audrey Driscoll
        June 16, 2016

        Kevin, your blog is pretty conversational — one of the better ones that way.

      • Kevin Brennan
        June 17, 2016

        Thanks, Audrey! I do think blogs are good for that. You can kick around lots of ideas.

  4. Parlor of Horror
    June 16, 2016

    One of my good friends…I don’t even talk to him anymore. Every time we were together he was constantly stopping to reply to something on FB or sending txts, we couldn’t even carry a conversation anymore. It’s sad really.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 16, 2016

      Yeah, it’s kind of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Some people are just lost forever.

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