On Communication (again.)

A World Where News Travelled Slowly

It could take from Monday to Thursday
and three horses. The ink was unstable,
the characters cramped, the paper tore where it creased.
Stained with the leather and sweat of its journey,
the envelope absorbed each climatic shift,
as well as the salt and the grease if the rider
who handed it over with a four-day chance
that by now things were different and while the head
had to listen, the heart could wait.

Semaphore was invented at a time of revolution;
the judgement of swing in a vertical arm.
News travelled letter by letter, along a chain of towers,
each built within telescopic distance of the next.
The clattering mechanics of the six-shutter telegraph
still took three men with all their variables
added to those of light and weather,
to read, record and pass the message on.

Now words are faster, smaller, harder
…we’re almost talking in one another’s arms.
Coded and squeezed, what chance has my voice
to reach your voice unaltered and then to leave no trace?
Nets tighten across the sky and the sea bed.
When London made contact with New York,
there were such fireworks, City Hall caught light.
It could have burned to the ground.

~Lavinia Greenlaw, 1997

I am going to stop saying I don’t like poetry – I think at this point I am going to have to admit that I actually do like it. Or at least some of it. A good amount of it in truth. I mentioned this poem the other day… I am not sure why I cannot find it on the Interwebs – as you know, you can find, like everything out there. Though, in light of the subject matter and the apparent tone, I appreciate the irony that it seems to be hidden deep out there in the ether. This poem certainly touches on some things that have been preeminent in my mind for a while now…

In considering communication, does More = Better? Faster = Better? Louder = Better? Or… maybe…. Slower = More well thought-out? Fewer Words = More Meaningful?

I do not suppose I will work this out before I go to bed tonight, but I will still be trying to work it out bit by bit.

I still get mail. Like, real, tangible physical mail. I love it. It is pretty much almost always from one of three people (shout out to mom, Aunt Nancy and Rennie) but still, it is real mail, yo. And not bills or coupons. It is really cool. Everyone likes to get mail. On the other hand, email doesn’t do the same. I mean I appreciate the efficiency and certainly with regard to things like job hunting I can get a little rush out of receiving relevant emails, but it is just not as cool. That definitely has to do with the whole numbing effect of instant gratification, which leads to expectations of a certain speed and style of interaction, which in turn commits one to substantially more communication and before you know it – it is constant.

I am not convinced this is bad. But I am also not convinced that this is necessarily the Golden Age of interpersonal connectivity that people seem to assume. There is a lot of it, that is for sure. And there is an assumption of accuracy and “realness” that I think is misplaced. But, we have certainly come a long way: Just look.

From face to face to glyphs to quipu to ships to ponies to trains to cables to radio waves to E.T. phoning home to fiber optics to… honing one’s cone? (You never know…) The conventional wisdom says it is better. I wonder. More on this later, unless you can read my mind and know I will be talking about the massive amounts of constant information and the consequences intended or otherwse; at least for this kid. If you know already you are honing my cone and that is impressive. Though weird if I do not know you… Or is it?



About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
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