|Reaching out & touching someone... old school style|
Think about it, we can be instantly in touch with almost anyone on the planet. Writing, voice or video, connecting has never been so easy. “Lightning fast” communication started way back when with dots and dashes. Yet today we’re farther apart than ever.
This day marks the anniversary of the first telegraph message. On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse (of Morse code fame) sent an experimental transmission from Washington, DC, to neighboring Baltimore. The success of that telegraphic message trumpeted the start of a surge in our ability to be in touch, the likes of which history had never before seen.
About 20 years later in 1861, Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph line. That technology leap doomed the fabled Pony Express, a transcontinental mail system in which mail was relayed, horse by horse, between the frontier state of California and the East Coast. Between April 1860 and October 1861, this service was yesteryear’s cross-country equivalent of today’s Federal Express.
|That's some way to earn a living|
Enter Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. The year was 1876. It was the start of an eventual dial up love affair that endures to this day.
Who remembers when calling “long distance” was a big deal? Never mind ringing somebody in another country; back in the ‘60s things ground to a halt whenever mom in Michigan would dial up relatives in Ohio. And a phone call from Los Angeles? Fuhgetaboutit. Life as we knew it stopped as we learned the latest from our California cousins, aunts and uncles.
FedEx in the ‘70s and the rise of telephone answering machines a decade later further enhanced our ability to reach out and touch. Then came the Internet, which exploded for consumers in the ‘90s.
Humankind has never had it so good.
One would think with all this access to communication that we’d enter a new state of being; a kinder and gentler humanity. Yet our increased ability to stay in touch has rendered us more distant than ever.
Bad news is the preferred news, especially on social media like Facebook. Some folks are engaging in meaningful online dialog across the miles, or across the street for that matter. But most eschew positive intercourse in favor of narrow, one-sided, fear-based, sensationalized conversations.
|Hit me back on the telegraph|
Consider texting, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat – among the most popular forms of communication, particularly with young people. Concurrently, phone companies report talk times among youth are declining.
All these forms of contact have one thing in common: short, controlled bursts of communication. They also conveniently allow persons on receiving end to choose whether and when to engage in conversation. This enables individuals to keep each other at arm’s length, with comfort and convenience being the operative words.
Unintended byproducts of these communication platforms include genuine misunderstandings between people at best, and hateful cyberbullying at worst.
Ironically, today’s preferred ways of connecting in many ways harken to the early days of telegraph and telegram communication, when there was no choice but to be brief and to the point. What’s old is new.
Perhaps in the end, what’s happening is merely a case of us continuing to evolve toward something wonderful and stumbling along the way. Either that or it’s the start of a return to a communication Dark Ages, which hardly bodes well for equity among people.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.