I met a man today who didn’t have a phone. No, not a cellphone — no phone at all. He had gotten rid of his phone, he said, because he liked to sleep, and because they kept calling him all through the night, waking him up well after midnight with calls about prizes he’d won and offers they had, precisely for him. (That’s even more intense than the poet I know — and envy — with no email.)
The man with no phone said I could leave a message for him with a neighbour who did have a phone, if I liked, and he would get it. Eventually. I imagine his days unfolding like a small oxbowed river bending its languid way downhill.
I mention this in concert with a small revelation by TC Media reporter James McLeod that, after 40,300 Tweets, he’s written 430,000 words on Twitter alone, almost the equivalent of all three Lord of the Rings books combined.
“What a godawful waste,” he wrote.
Forgive me, James, but that’s the only Facebook or Twitter message of yours that I actually remember. And I don’t mean to be harsh. I just mean to point out that we’ve virtually perfected Kleenex communication: use once, and then throw away.
I think I’ve written this before: they laugh at my cellphone at work. It’s old flip-phone that can barely text, and, for a while, my kids would laugh at me because I hadn’t figured out how to put a space between each word when I did text, and just used zeroes instead. They would send me texts just to show my responses to their friends — so I’m not exactly on the cutting-edge of technology.
At the same time, I do check in to Facebook for my daily dose of depression about how, apparently, everyone else in the universe is doing more exciting things/eating more exciting food/going to more exotic places than I am, leaving me to question even getting out of bed, let alone going to work. They have Paris: I have an office at The Telegram, up next to an outside wall in the mall where I can hear the small children screaming when they’re not allowed to ride the coin-operated helicopter or the bulky red robot.
At work, I am at the centre of a technological web that hardly ever stops: all manner of phones ring, emails pour in, and it’s hard to make a coherent, extended and in any way involved thought. But I have something important to tell you. Now, just right now, I wonder: is one of the three “Gs” in 3G cellphones actually gravity? Because, at two different gyms in the last two weeks, I’ve seen runners lose their cellphones on the spinning treadmills under their feet, and then saw the belt whip the phone backwards towards the rest of the gym equipment, like some deity was suddenly disgusted or something, taking matters into his or her own hands. That thought brought to you by a ringing phone that reminded me of a thousand other ringing phones.
Where was I?
Someone’s screaming, and the helicopter, the helicopter is rising.
No meal has ever tasted better because I photographed it with my phone. Then again, I’ve never photographed anything, really, with my phone, except once an airplane wing and then, another time, a particularly interesting and large grey moth on clapboard. Neither photograph even approached the wonder of the object photographed. Each one was a sad small take of a bigger reality — like using a postage stamp to illustrate the Parliament building.
And still, I slather at the idea of being the first to know, of being able to take some appetizer of knowledge that I can take and rush out and tell everyone that I knew of first.
I can be the first, the very first, to know about a pothole or a traffic jam, the first to know about all nature of transitory things that, if I were more of an existentialist, not only cease to matter tomorrow, but actually cease to exist.
Are we going to be remembered as a culture that spent a colossal, a phenomenal amount of time on very little?
I fear we are. Mass communicators of nothing.
It occurs to me that I like to sleep, too. It occurs that modern Luddites might flex their arms and reach for the wirecutters, might smother the background noise.
Cut the wires, visible and invisible.
The hollow red robot outside my wall lifts his arms. I can hear him. But who’s in charge?
I fear it’s another four-year-old with a dedicated loonie and more concentrated purpose than the rest of us.
Russell Wangersky is editorial page editor of the St. John’s Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.