Column: Eyeball To Eyeball


I was annoyed with my malfunctioning computer and had a backache from sitting too long, writing my heart out. I thought to myself, Who needs all these modern contraptions?

Human beings have always had the compulsion to express themselves. Before the tech revolution, there were cave drawings, dead sea scrolls and hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs. Aristocracy passed hand-written notes via their servants—though I don’t know how swift that was if you needed an answer pronto.

Tom-tom drums in the jungle beat out messages. Native Americans used smoke signals to convey danger when they could not run far enough to pass on the news firsthand. The Pony Express (ride ’em cowboys) traveled over dangerous terrain to deliver stuff carried in their saddlebags.

There were wire services, telegrams and there was the telephone. The ultimate message service of all was Moses carrying the 10 Commandments carved in stone down from the mountain.

Wouldn’t these poor guys have loved a more innovative way of communicating?
With these archaic methods, news would not have traveled fast enough for bloggers, tweeters, Facebook addicts and the like. How could they let everybody know everything at lightening speed? What frustration! But, who needs all this information and nonsensical chatter?

Now, there are computers, fax machines, tablets, cell phones, email, text messaging, social media and apps proliferating like rabbits. But, conversation is competing with these innovations—eyeball to eyeball, look him in the eye, see if you could trust them, plain old talking.

I have a backup plan in case one of my handy dandy machines crashes. I will write a letter by hand, using pen or pencil, or simply make a phone call using that archaic instrument, the telephone.

My important message that could not wait would eventually be heard; no catastrophe would occur.

Rethinking it, though, email does come in handy, especially when you want to avoid talking to someone.

On the other hand, cyberspace doesn’t hold solid memories of past discussions—saved messages can be lost, you can run out of gigabytes, paper and ink cartridges, and computers can crash.

But, there’s an alternative. By having a conversation in person, you can judge the mood of your counterpart simply by watching his body language, and listening to her tone of voice can give you clues to her frame of mind.

I was sitting at my desk when I felt the vibration of my cell phone. I glanced at the sender’s name and became alarmed. It was my son. He never contacted me in the middle of the day. I had a nervous moment before I looked at the message. I thought, Who died?

Turns out, he was on the New Jersey Turnpike, stuck in traffic, and thought he would make a few calls while he waited. I thought, What would happen if he just sat back and relaxed? But, no way could a minute go by without him diddling on some device. Even though I was the happy recipient of an unexpected message, I still could have lived without that shot to the heart when I saw the caller’s name.

Maybe I don’t miss the good old days entirely. There’s something to be said for quickly contacting someone in an emergency, knowing the news as it happens, typing without having to erase every other word with white out and tracking down information within minutes.

I’m no fuddy duddy. I am becoming a convert.

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