Wednesday, October 8, 2008


You feel a nauseating rumble and the telltale buzz on your person. You reach around to grasp the source, and raise the ball and chain to waist level, drop your head in slavish fashion, and peer in inquiry at your cell phone. New Message. Compelled by social structures spawn of the communication age, still so novel and alien, bizarre, that you wonder why you do it, you open the transmission and grudgingly read the contents. I am a modern man, in a democratic society, championing my individual rights, yet I am, by that same token, a man whose agency is limited by the devices that profess to free me.

The telephone may remain unanswered, mail thrown out without so much as a peek inside, yet the "text message" is unavoidable should it reach your portable device. This self-imposing mode of communication is the answer to the technological world's plea of "No Junk Mail, Please!" What a nuisance to receive contract promotions from your service provider, offers to join personal-ads communities, and in extreme cases… the Dear John.

Unwanted communication between those no longer engaged in romantic relationships may no longer be evaded. Truly it is the tool of the scorned woman insatiably seeking answers to trite questions no man could possibly answer and of the aggressive ex-boyfriend relentlessly after reunion, beating a dead horse.

In a post-industrial society, we no longer produce to fill a need. We manufacture the desire, first, in order to generate the product to sate it. Sometimes the products we sell create second order needs that require their own solutions. Marshall McLuhan exclaimed, "The Medium is the Message;" he implies how modern mediums, or vehicles of communication (radio, television, and ultimately, computers, internet, wireless), effect observers by changing the way they interpret and process the world. In essence, communication has become the most effective commodity in perpetuating the economic model we have developed for ourselves. Hence, this tradition of more and more accessible text, while on one hand has opened the floodgates of information transfer and has made our world smaller; it has also attenuated my capacity to be free of unwanted contact with the world. Take, for instance, the case of webcam whores selling their wares in the form of a request for feigned friendship on MySpace, an online imagined community that has become lucrative, of Google-like proportions, as a locus for digital self-promotion (of musicians, circles of friends, and other types of cohort).

I have no qualms with the technology; believe me, I have been among the rest of you pioneers, employing the convenience of cell phones, PDAs, iPODs, and alas texting too. However, I fear what its implications will be on the literate world. Can the signs and symbols of our time (J, LOL, BRB) usher us in the right direction? You must have noticed the deterioration of the formal letter-writing style in your daily emails. Is wordsmithing a dying methodology of only novelists and pedant academics? Is there a prosperous future awaiting us when we know only to express ourselves with such onomatopoeias as "MUAH (kiss)" and oratory spacers such as the word like? It doesn't help that these new tools of document dissemination have input methodologies that discourage free speech, in that they make it very difficult to express oneself with full sentences, proper grammar, and devoid of abbreviations. Why is it the skill of Conrad Black with the English language that is lauded as exceptional rather than expected to be common place. "Hello," since the invention of the telephone, has been a greeting, when it once was an expression of puzzlement. Not surprisingly, the telephone is also a vehicle for spineless slithering solicitors to enter your home.

People make sense of their experiences in their respective worlds by using their cultural tradition as a filter. This culture is made up of signs, symbols, and hence words, sentences, speech, script, the documents of our lives are the "decoder rings" of our everyday lives. Documents are now all things that have the capacity to speak to you (Weinberger): a Word file, a receipt, even a text message; no longer an ink-on-paper piece of evidence. Should we really move away from a reliance on the great texts of western society? This notion would make Allan Bloom turn in his grave. We came from an oral society, and seem to be moving again towards a new orality (Barthes). Text is becoming so informal now that it will soon be as ephemeral as speech. We have already begun writing as colloquially as we speak.

I urge you to take caution. Please text thoughtfully. Send a sonnet, dispatch a dissertation. It is all too easy to reduce your vocabulary to a cache akin to street thugs, don't allow the technology to rob you of your agency. Your freedom to make sense of the world relies on your ability to shed imbedded structures of the new world order.

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