Friday, September 18, 2009

The Telephone Killed the Romantic in Me

You've Got MailEvolution is a cornerstone of communication in society.  If communication were to become stagnant then it would eventually break down and disappear entirely just as if the gene pool of a particular being were to stop changing that species would eventually die out.  Evolution is a necessity of communication.  However it seems as though, for the past 150 years, that this evolutionary process has made a misstep in direction.  As technology has advanced at a more and more rapid pace so too has the evolution of communication; in only the past century and half we've seen the rise of telephone, music, worldwide postal service, film, television, fax, and most recently the internet which has spawned a vast array of new forms including email, discussion board, instant message, voice over internet protocol, and video communication.  The problem is that with the recent strain of comm. tools communication has become depersonalized and romance has almost entirely fallen out of most forms.  Couple the depersonalization with the fact that much of the communication forms used throughout the West have actually caused devolution in language.  The Internet and telecommunications, it seems, are most responsible for this devolution because they emphasize speed and productivity.  This paper will discuss, primarily, why people need personal communication, the timeline for the evolution/devolution of communication, why this is a problem, and finally present possible solutions to the issue.

Why do we need personalization?

Personal communication keeps us in touch with the reality of our existence.  Should personal communication fall out of existence how will we know that we are truly alive?  In The Matrix civilization has declined to the point where its inhabitants are not even ever truly alive, the people within that world are, from birth, in a dream state.  Like being in a coma without ever having opened one's eyes, they have never experienced the physical, alive world.  These people communicate with one another entirely through the electrical signals of a machine created world.  They will never experience the touch of someone's hand, the smell of the ocean, or the sound of a thunder-storm.

That you are a slave, Neo.  Like everyone else, you were born into bondage.  Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.... That's exactly my point.  Exactly.  Because you have to wonder: how do the machines know what Tasty Wheat tasted like?  Maybe they got it wrong.  Maybe what I think Tasty Wheat tasted like actually tasted like oatmeal, or tuna fish.  That makes you wonder about a lot of things. You take chicken, for example: maybe they couldn't figure out what to make chicken taste like, which is why chicken tastes like everything. (Wachowski 1999)

Our communication is one of the major factors that separate us from the rest of the living world.  Reason is the main factor in our believed separation from animamalia, however the ability to form functioning societies would be an impossibility without the communication of our reasoning with others.  Although at times our ability to communicate seems at odds with our ability to reason:

Why haven't you radioed the plans countermanding the go-code?

Well... I'm afraid we're unable to communicate with any of the aircraft.


As you may recall, sir, one of the provisions of Plan 'R' provides that once the go-code is received, the normal SSB Radios on the aircraft are switched into a specially coded device which I believe is designated as CRM-114.  Now, in order, to prevent the enemy from issuing fake or confusing orders, CRM-114 is designed not to receive at all.  Unless the message is the correct three-letter recall code prefix.

You mean to tell me, General Turgison, that you will be unable to recall the aircraft?

That's about the size of it.  However, at this moment our men are plowing through and transmitting every possible three-letter combination of the recall code.  But since there are over 17,000 permutations... it's going to take us about two-and-a-half days to transmit them all. (Scott and Sellers 1964)

Not long after the bomb is dropped causing the destruction of the entire world.

Most importantly communication allows us to form a connection between one another and develop an idea of our own identity in the world:

What will NY152 say today I wonder.  I turn on my computer.  I wait impatiently as it connects.  I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You've got mail.  I hear nothing.  Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart.  I have mail.  From you.

When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does. (Hanks and Ryan 1998)

The History of Communication

Man has existed on Earth in his current form for the past 200 thousand years.  "Compared to other species, humans have a highly developed brain capable of abstract reasoning, language, and introspection." (The Smithsonian Institution n.d.)  The earliest humans formed small nomadic groups called band societies in which noises and body motions were the primary form of communication.  The first form of communication to appear was sign language.  Then, some time prior to fifty thousand years ago, spoken language was introduced.  Around nine thousand years ago the first proto-writing appeared which used symbols to convey information, but it seems was devoid of linguistic content.  This symbol writing had evolved to full blown linguistic writing by six thousand years ago, when the first historical records began to appear. (Kramer 1988) Then the evolution of communication sat stagnant for about five-and-a-half thousand years.  In 1792 the next great leap in communication appeared when the first semaphore system was introduced in France.  1839 saw the first telegraph put into use in Britain.  The telegraph was the true beginning of man's communication being directly tied to the advancements in technology.  The first transatlantic communication took place in 1866, allowing for the first time people on opposing sides of the world to communicate instantaneously.  The first telephone appeared in 1876 and allowed people to hear the voice of another person from a great distance apart.  1900 was the first time instant communication was made possible over long distances without the use of great lengths of wire with the introduction radio, or wireless telegraph.  The early 1900s also saw the introduction of film, which would allow a person to see a moving picture of something that had happened at a previous time.  Most importantly of all, the 1960s saw the development of computers and computer networks followed by the internet in the early 80s.  The 80s also saw the appearance of cellular communications.  Over the next three decades television, film, internet, and cellular telecommunications continued to evolve and be improved upon.

The de-evolution of communication

Once machines start talking for you it's no longer you communicating it is really the machine who talks.  Beginning in the 1800s with the invention and widespread use of the typewriter and the telegraph communication was beginning to be on a slippery slope.  Once the telephone started to show up a few years later the devolution had already begun.  The problem with the telephone, and almost all subsequent tools of communication, is that it requires an instant reply to any query with almost no advanced warning of its coming and no signals to a good response, whereas for millennia humanities main forms of communication were either person-to-person conversation, conversation via proxy, or letter writing.  With conversation, though also an requiring instantaneous response, a person is able to hear the tone of speech and detect any sarcasm and most importantly to read the body language of their opposite.  The same goes for letter writing/reading: the recipient of a letter has the time to pour through the writer's choice of words and order of the wording to gain an idea of what the he may be thinking.  He is also allotted a much greater amount of time with which to formulate a proper and delicate response.  The telephone, including the cell phone, does not allow for such luxuries, at least not in the way it is used presently.

Art, including the entertainment arts such as music, movies, radio, and television, while only communicating in one direction, are still an important part of communication.  They allow for the expression of ideas and feelings in a world which oftentimes is too busy for such simpleton thoughts.  This inner humanity is why art, in some form or another, has survived since man first drew paintings on the walls of caves.

The most recent wave of technological advances in communication fall prey to the same errors of way which the telephone does, but, perhaps, with a little more pressing of side affects attached.  With the widespread use of the Internet more and more ways of communicating began popping up: First to appear were newsgroups (what would today be similar to our discussion boards), then the use of email began to appear, firstly in business then to the homes, after email was instant message and its offspring text message, and most recently the weblog (Blog).  Discussion boards fall under the same idea of letter writing, only with more of a community aspect to them, and have been around for centuries prior to the advent of the Internet.  Email is letter writing, only sent digitally, except for what constitutes a well written email is much more lenient than that of a well written letter.  Instant messaging... the beginning of the downfall of modern language.  If the telephone was the starting point for the devolution of communication, than this is the boulder dropped onto a falling communication's shoulders.  Not only does instant message, and its cell phone offspring text message, require instantaneous, impersonal response, but it does so in language that would not even be comprehensibly to a generation prior to its inception and the main concern is that the destructuring of language which it has created will likely leave the generation of my children to respond to a humorous anecdote not by laughing but by saying "lol" or "lmao" or "rofl" and without using proper acronym capitalization like the English language requires.  Blogs are a strange child, part discussion board post and part personal diary.  A weblog allows limitless freedom to write whatever one likes.  A blog can be made as personal as a diary or as open as a newspaper opinion piece, it is truly up to the writer.

InstantPerson-to-Person ConversationRadioInstant Message


Cell Phone


Text Message

Art (Poetry/Prose/Film/Music/Visual Art)

Conversation by Proxy

Discussion Boards



Our only hope for the future of a personal world is an entire generation of revolutionaries who throw off the shackles of technology which are holding us back from being the social creatures which we, in essence, truly are.  The fate of all the world rest on the shoulders of our children.

Upon our children - how they are taught - rests the fate - or fortune - of tomorrow's world.  B.C. Forbes

The fate of your world, perhaps of all worlds, rests within his special mind. (Groening n.d.)

Alright... Ok. Hey, you want to lay the fate of the world on the kid's Camaro? (Turturro 2007)


Groening, Matt. "The Day the Earth Stood Stupid." Futurama. FOX Television.

You've Got Mail. Directed by Nora Ephron. Performed by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. 1998.

Kramer, Samuel. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Recorded History. Third. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Performed by George C Scott and Peter Sellers. 1964.

The Smithsonian Institution. Human Origins Program. (accessed May 05, 2008).

Transformers. Directed by Michael Bay. Performed by John Turturro. 2007.

The Matrix. Directed by Wachowski. 1999.

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