Friday, December 5, 2014

Networking: Then and Now

Social media and technology are reshaping our language as well as our culture. We’re creating words to keep up with the various new gadgets, apps, and trends. Words like: selfie, meme, tweet, and binge watching. And lest we forget the ever popular acronyms like LOL, LMAO, OMG, and BFF. When I was a young whipper-snapper, the only acronyms I recall hearing often were ASAP, BYOB, and TGIF.

We abbreviate everything to reduce keystrokes and to fit a message into a limited field. “You” is now the letter U and “are” is now just the letter R. Why, kids today couldn’t spell out a whole sentence if they ate a dictionary and pooped out the words. This is where I shake my fist at the youngsters while gripping my walker with the other, and I yell at them to get off my lawn.

Social media is a curse and a blessing. Using Facebook, for example, has allowed me to reconnect with old friends and stay in touch with family. I’ve tried other venues, but always end up back on Facebook because that’s where I seem to find most of the people who interact with me. However, despite this benefit, it also has the power to suck me into cyberspace and hold my attention for much longer than necessary. Social media has also defined a generation.

When I was a kid, a phone call was made to have a conversation with someone across town. Long distance phone calls to people across the country were reserved for special occasions or urgent business because they were more expensive, or we simply mailed letters to them. You remember those, right? They’re like email, but made of paper and are hand-delivered by a courier.

In those days, if someone wanted to share pictures, we’d be invited over to their house to look at a book filled with film-developed photographs. If you had a slide projector, you could show your pictures to a group of people at the same time. Either method of sharing involved getting in your car and going to someone else’s house.

Answering machines made it possible to leave messages for people who weren’t home when you called; you didn’t have to keep calling until you got through. As freeing as those devices were, you still had to be at home next to your phone in order to know that you’ve missed a call. Later, you could dial your own phone from anywhere and hear your messages with the invention of voice mail. Eventually, you could bring your phone with you everywhere you went and never had to miss another call again with a cell phone.

When cell phones first came out, they were called mobile telephones or car phones because most people used them in their cars. They were also referred to as bricks because they were about the size and shape of a brick – very different from today’s car phones. Cell phones became more popular with each innovation: text messaging, calendar and contact tools, camera and video capabilities, games, Wi-Fi internet access, and the endless stream of specialized applications we fondly call apps. With the increase of functionality came a decrease in size, making them even more convenient and fun to use.

I didn’t have a cell phone until about 1998. I eventually got one for my son as well. As a single parent, it gave me some peace of mind, knowing that I could reach him no matter where he was. It also made me feel more secure because I could call AAA for assistance without having to leave my car if anything happened out on the road. In those early days of mobile communication, I rarely sent a text message. However, my son quickly learned how to use this feature and embraced it.

Once Facebook was available on cell phones , it combined the convenience of texting with the fun of sharing photos and web links. Now, instead of having face-to-face conversations, we send messages over a device – sometimes to someone who’s sitting just a few feet from us. Information, misinformation, updates from family and friends, world events, and photos are more accessible now than ever before thanks to wireless internet and cell phones.

We entertain ourselves more instead of relying on actors, writers, directors, etc. We can make our own movies and post them online, or while away the hours watching cute videos of cats doing funny things. We don’t even need special equipment to take a picture of ourselves or have someone hold a camera and do it for us; now we take selfies with our cell phones.

Things have certainly changed in such a short span of time, and I imagine advancements will start happening faster and faster going forward. Life is imitating art. Scientists and engineers are finding ways to develop technology seen in futuristic movies and novels, and that innovation is happening exponentially.

These inventions make our lives more convenient, functional, entertaining, and interesting. Sometimes, however, we use them at the expense of our manners, paying more attention to the phone in our hand than to the person right in front of us. Other times, we risk our safety when we can’t put the phone down long enough to drive our cars. We carry them with us everywhere and leave them next to our bed while we sleep at night. For the most part, they have become a way of life.

If we’re not careful, we’ll rely so heavily on technology that we’ll forget how to think for ourselves. I remember a similar warning when pocket calculators became the rage. To some extent, I think that did happen, but the world didn’t come crashing down as some feared. Still, would we know how to communicate naturally or how to amuse ourselves? Do you send checks through the mail or do you pay your bills online? When was the last time you used a pen and paper to write a letter, went inside a bank to make a deposit, or received a printed invitation in the mail?

The way we do things has certainly changed. We’ve come to expect speed and convenience. If you remember waiting for dial-up internet, then you can certainly appreciate high-speed internet even though you probably get impatient when it takes as long as 20 seconds to open a web page instead of connecting immediately. We have the world at our fingertips.

Imagine if that world went away.

What would happen in a world without electronic gadgets? People will have to resort to having face-to-face conversations again, seeking out their friends on foot or by car to speak with them, sending letters to those who are far away. Whether life would be better or worse without the tech toys we’ve come to know and love, it is possible that we might discover a new form of connection – the human connection.

Maybe instead of devoting so much time to networking via Facebook or our cell phones, we should open our eyes to the world around us…

Gaze into someone’s eyes.

Get lost in a book.

Smell the roses.

Sing. Love. Dance. Live.

Click Here to watch "Car Phone" music video.


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