Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Widger, stop your weepin'

OK. I’ve officially had it with the mopey, maudlin reflections on digital technology the likes of Caeli Wolfson Widgers Why I Silence Your Call. Specifically regarding the practice of letting calls go to voice, as Miss Manners has been telling any of us who will listen ever since the answering machine was invented, it’s not impolite to screen your calls; it’s simply the modern-day equivalent of instructing one’s butler to tell callers, “Pansy is unable to take callers right now. You may leave your card.” If you were unfortunate enough not to have a butler, you delegated this duty to another household member, or simply didn’t answer the door. Perhaps you hung a note on your door to that effect, Martin Luther style. See? Nothing new here.

What some fail to grasp is that a phone call is by its very nature intrusive: It’s by definition someone demanding your immediate attention and time. Thus phone calls should be reserved for emergencies. On the rare occasions when I initiate a phone call, I ask the recipient, “Is this a good time for you?” or “Have you got a minute?” Diving right in is now considered presuming on someone’s time. Even then I often preface a call with a text, so the recipient has an idea of what I want and can respond at their convenience.

In a related vein, can we please stop moaning that e-mail “just doesn’t have the nuance / tone / voice cues” of telephoning? And that e-readers “just aren’t the same as a ‘real book that I hold in my hands’”? If e-mail doesn’t allow for voice cues, then it certainly shares an epistolary tradition that goes all the way back to the first chiseled word. I’m sure that when the first printed book rolled off the presses, a chorus of monks could be heard from their collective scriptoria: “But it’s just not the same as ink and parchment!” And the first papyrus users no doubt heard their moms say, “But it just doesn’t have the same feel as that cold, chiseled stone!”

Folks, e-mail is simply a newer way to convey text. That’s all it is. It has no inherent inferiority to what preceded it, nor does an e-reader. The phenomenon of mass-produced paper books only existed for the few generations growing up post World War II. Remember Scholastic Books that we all take for granted? Those didn’t exist pre-WWII; before that, only the wealthy had regular access to paper books. So there is nothing more inherently book-like about a paper book than there is about a book read on an e-reader. The same information is being conveyed (at even less cost), just digitally.

That having been said, I’m expecting not to hear any more weeping and wailing about technology and how it was in the good ol’ days before we had it. Get over it. And feel free to call me if it’s an emergency.

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