Saturday, January 10, 2009

Technological Trip Ups

I’ll just come right out and admit it. I do not fully trust all the technological doo-dads that fill my life. I appreciate them, enjoy them and utilize them to the best of my ability, but I don’t really trust them.

I am old enough to remember when there were only 5 channels on the TV and to go from one to the next someone had to actually stand up, walk over to the set and turn the knob. Telephones were mounted on the wall or sat on a desk. Phone messages required a pen and paper. And if you weren’t at home, no one could contact you. Leftovers were reheated in the oven or on the top of the stove. Games had boards that you laid out on the table or the floor.

I’ve recently had a couple of technological trip ups that led me straight back to skepticism about the reliability of all our marvels. The first happened when I had forwarded a story that I had written to someone who had asked to read it. After a week had passed with no word and feeling a bit nervous that they had hated my story, I asked how they liked it. It never got there. Now, I know how to send e-mail just as well as anyone else, attachments included. But my story had just flown off into the ether somewhere, never to be seen again. I probably would have just written it off as weirdness in the Internet universe, but darned if it didn’t happen a few days later with a message to someone else. This made me doubt that other messages had reached their intended recipients.

The second event went unnoticed for almost two weeks. I had to replace my phone/answering machine the week after Christmas. The new one has so many bells and whistles that I was extremely careful in setting it up. However, I couldn’t help noticing that we had received absolutely no messages since it had been plugged in. Zero. Zip. Nada. So, brilliant girl that I am, I used my cell phone to call the house phone and leave a message. I hung up. The message light was flashing on the phone, but no message. After an hour of going through the not so thorough manual, I fiddled with how many rings before the message machine picks up. Apparently my new phone will record messages after four rings, but, if it is set for six rings, it tosses them into the great void.

Both of these incidents left me wondering if I had inadvertently snubbed someone, or several someones. There is absolutely no way for me to find out, but I wondered. I also got to thinking about how we’ve come to assume things about responses or lack of responses to all of our high tech communications. If there is no response to an e-mail, or a phone message, or a text message, what exactly does that imply? Does it imply anything? There seems to be a different expectation with the electronic messages than with more human based messages. Perhaps the more instantaneous messages make us lose our patience and expect instantaneous replies. And the silences between messages become uncomfortable more quickly than in the days when waiting was the usual expectation.

If there is no reply, does that mean the message wasn’t received? Or it was ignored? Or it landed in the spam folder? Or they don’t want to talk to you? The mind reels through the various possibilities and none of them are good. In the old days, we waited a “reasonable amount of time” before calling back or leaving a second message. But in our high-speed technologically enhanced world, what is a reasonable amount of time?

I’m already on record as being uncomfortable with the layers of technology intervening between humans. Even when communication happens, I feel like it is lacking. And when the technology acts up, it makes me even more uncomfortable. The only solution, I suppose, is to keep trying. But, just to make myself feel better, I think I’ll begin writing more letters. And, if you are expecting to hear from me and don’t, please try again.


Denise said...

I agree with you there, I remember those times as well. I've refused to have a cell phone, the thought that I should be reached at any time and place creeps me out.

I've sent messages that weren't received. I've also not received messages electronically and regular only to be greeted with disbelief on the part of the sender.

deknits said...

Great post! I often miss the days when things were slower and's true that we start to feel like we have to respond to everything *right now* just because we can. I'll be thinking of this this week and I'll try to remember to take my time.

Anonymous said...

It is sad that it seems the trend is that technology is giving us less control over our lives than more. I am at the cutting edge of many of the technological advances of today and many that won't be realized until much latter. My take, expect less control, less personal interaction and even a much less degree of understanding.

Knitman said...

Your second paragraph reminds me of a recent chat at a meeting when I mentioned phones with dials and the young woman I was speaking with had no idea what I meant!