Throw out your cell phone. Smash your laptop. Go hug a stranger. Whatever you do, don’t let New Communication overtake your life, because it will serve only to impede your connections with other human beings. These technologies have made it much faster and easier for us to exchange ideas with each other, but their convenience seems to be to their users’ disadvantage. A fact of human nature is that it pushes the things that come easily off to the side; it makes sense. If an activity doesn’t take much effort, why waste time thinking about it? Rather than painstakingly rationalize the thing, we leave it to our mental periphery to swiftly sort out. But when applied to meaningful communication between people, this raises a paradox: how can a significant statement be made when we’re only thinking about it on the side?
It is the year 1800 and you are many miles away from your spouse. You decide to write a letter, and determine that it’s probably a good idea to set a few hours aside for it. Drafts will be necessary. This might be the only thing he/she hears from your for months, so it’s logical that you not only include as much important information as possible, but also ensure it’s accurately represented. This is a person you love, and they deserve the attention. You also pepper many questions throughout the letter. It’s vital that the recipient of your message knows what you’d like to hear about them. You might even need to write out a few copies by hand. If a letter were to get lost or destroyed by accident, you’d have no way of reaching your spouse until you returned home. This method of communication is slow and rather unreliable; the communicator has to think critically to compensate for its flaws.
Quite suddenly it is 2008. You’re in Tokyo, and your spouse is back home in Toronto. You wonder how dearest is doing, but realize you’ll find out soon enough anyway. Odds are he/she has already sent a text message to your cell phone, or Blackberry, or an e-mail to your laptop, or perhaps posted a cute public message on your Facebook wall. Maybe they’ve really gone the distance and left a message for you in your voice mail inbox. Most likely, though, they’ve used more than one method and you’ll have a hard time turning around tomorrow without finding out how your spouse is getting by. Besides, you’ve asked many times before. The answer is always “Good.” These routes of communication are incredibly fast, intuitive, and ubiquitous. The communicator barely has to think at all in order to use them.
Modern forms of conveyance have numbed us to a lot of meaningful interaction. Because we no longer need to invest as much of ourselves in the communication process as we once did, it carries less gravity and meaning, which, in a twist of tragic irony, flaccifies the communication itself. Eat your Blackberry. Unplug your webcam. Go hug a stranger.