In college, I wrote my papers on a typewriter for the first year or two, and then on an early word processor. You’d type in the text, and every paragraph or two, the machine would come to life and start whirring in a terrifying way.
At my first job, we had email, but it was strictly inter-office, and we used it only to make lunch plans with the people down the hall. I don’t remember getting my first computer, which I’m sure was a clunky desktop, but I do remember transitioning from a flip phone to a Blackberry, and being taught by a friend how to text photos. (The first photo I ever texted was a picture of the salt & pepper shakers on my table, to which my friend replied “Ooh, spicy!” How’s that for retaining useless information?)
Life before technology was a wondrous time — although you’d be hard-pressed to convince any teenager today that life before the iPhone was anything other than bleak, and full of man-eating dinosaurs. What today’s teens and college students don’t understand — what they can’t understand, because they’ve never experienced it — is how wonderful the sense of anticipation was before technology, and how great a role chance played in our lives.
If you went to a large college, for instance, you could have a class with someone really terrific one semester…and then never see them again. That was the reality you lived with, and it put a lot of pressure on us to assess — in the first week of classes — exactly which of our classmates we might want to see, socially, and then start hunting for useful information that would help make that happen.
“Have you ever taken a class with this professor before? No? Hey, I feel like I’ve seen you before…maybe at the bar on 4th Street?…Do you have an extra pen? Oh, you go there every Thursday night? Cool.”
That was Stage 1: Target Assessment & Information Acquisition.
Stage 2 was Deployment, when you had to round up some friends, brief them on the target, and arrange a sortie to the bar in question. Feigning nonchalance and trying to maintain some semblance of conversation, you’d scan the crowd like The Terminator, hoping to find that one, particular face you really wanted to see.
It is hard for students today to imagine, but in this early pre-civilization, the mere sight of the back of a familiar head was enough to set one’s heart aflutter. After that, you’d jockey to get within the target’s line of sight, perhaps exchange a nod or glance or “Hey, what’s up?” with the very person you’d spent six hours hoping to see, and then vow to repeat it all the next week. Good times.
I once had a Lit class with a very nice British guy, but having a History class all the way across campus immediately after the Lit class, I had to sprint as soon as the professor dismissed us, and never got a chance to speak with him. Until Halloween, that is, when he and another exchange student from Manchester dressed up as Bill and Ben from the BBC cartoon of the same name, and came into a bar wearing flower pots on their heads — one of which was promptly knocked off by a low-hanging ceiling fan. Hilarity ensued and we dated for a year. When he went back to England, we wrote actual letters. On paper.
About ten years ago, it was very popular for churches to urge people to “disconnect to reconnect.” The idea was that if you gave up the cellphone for a few days, you’d have meaningful conversations and rediscover your purpose in life, as well as God’s intention for you. I’m not sure what happened to that movement, other than it died a slow death as people grew more and more attached to technology, and less and less willing to give it up, no matter what the Lord might want.
I have to say that while the idea of disconnecting is appealing, I do love to text. It seems silly to admit, but a funny or sweet text can turn an entire day around — and I’m lucky to be in regular text-contact (is there a term for that? Textact?) with a number of very funny and kind people. Last week, for instance, I was having one of those days when I could barely muster the energy to sit in class, much less contribute in any meaningful way, and I got a text from a friend at home, who was just checking in to say she missed me. My whole day turned around at that point based on nothing but her kindness, and it reminded me that you never really know how much your kind word might affect someone — but it’s generally far more than you think.
Which, I would argue, is why you should always make the effort. Even if it’s just to say “Hello, I’m thinking of you.”
One of my girlfriends regularly texts me a two word message: “Welfare check?” Embedded in that simple question is more than a decade of conversation and exchanged confidences, and a more elaborate question related to whatever I might be doing or struggling with at that point in time. Even if I’ve got nothing good to report at that moment, I know that she’s thinking of me, and cares about how things are going.
Very little beats a good group text, and I’ve got cousins — a group of five siblings now in their twenties and thirties — who’ve been involved in a group text for about seven years, despite the fact that they all live within twenty minutes of one another. In this way, they keep up with one another in real time: the one in graduate school knows whether the one working at the financial firm liked her lunch date, and the one who’s a teacher knows whether the the one who’s a nutritionist got the job interview she was hoping for. The content may not be overly-important, but texting has definitely brought them closer, in that they’re able to share their daily lives the way they used to, when they all lived under the same roof.
Someday, when our great-grandchildren are explaining to us the way they communicate (via telepathic messaging), we’ll look back longingly on the sweet anticipation we used to experience…not when hoping to see the back of our beloved’s head (we won’t be able to remember that far back), but while waiting for the green bubble to indicate that a text message had come through.
In the meantime, enjoy Carly on Martha’s Vineyard: “I’m no prophet, and I don’t know nature’s ways, so I’ll try and see into your eyes right now…and stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.” Carly Simon, Anticipation
And text me. I’ll be waiting.