Friday, May 9, 2014

Communication Breakdown

(Artwork entitled Friendship by 4yo)

This past week I've been thinking quite a bit about life in the '90s. This wasn't spurred by any form of poetic waxing on times gone by, but rather a particular case of dream induced nostalgia. I had a string of dreams the other night populated with people I went to High School with, not even close friends, just classmates. Some of these people I hadn't thought about in years. Upon waking, through a chain of various related thoughts, my mind shifted to my apartment on St. Mark's Place in the mid-to-late 90's and the form of perpetual self-medicated, semi-isolation in which I existed. 

I remembered fondly how I used to fill the greeting tape of my answering machine with an entire song. This is a habit that dated back to High School and continued through college. That way, if anyone called, before they could leave message, they had to first listen to a song of my choosing, representing my current state of mind. I was trying to remember what songs I had used. I could only remember that once, for quite a long stretch of perhaps two months, my greeting was The Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" from the rooftop concert in its entirety. For whatever reason, it seemed to sum up how I was feeling in those bleak grey winter days. 

The interesting thing about all of this is not the fact that I lived in a time when answering machines used full size cassette tapes, or that I still consider "Don't Let Me Down" to be the Fab Four's finest song, but rather the changing nature of communication. Back then if someone wished to get in contact with you, they were subjected to your whims. Whether it was an answering machine song, or an unanswered page, the parameters of the conversation were in your hands. In a sense it still is. You can choose not to answer the phone, or leave an email unread, but more and more the receiver is subjected to the whims of the sender. Be it on social media, or text messages, the sender "posts" something to you, forcing you to engage in whatever train of thought is steering them at the time. 

The circumstances of communication have changed dramatically in the past two decades and while there is a convenience and ease to it, I'm not sure I'm totally on board. In fact, I know that I'm not totally on board because I NEVER text. I have a cell phone that I only turn on when I need to make a call. Sometimes I'm amazed when I see elderly people who still correspond by snail mail, and it dawned on me that if I'm still around in 40 years, the younger generations will probably view my perculair communication standards in the same light and humankind pushes ever onward. Oh well, as long they just don't let me down, I'll be okay.

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