(As seen in The Richland Observer December 12, 2013)
There are some sure signs that winter has been set upon us. The obvious is the first snowfall. Another may be the drastic increase in our heating bills. And, last but certainly not least, my wife gets to remind me that I slip and fall once per year. In all three cases, winter has officially arrived.
While performing some improvised field medicine to nurse my wounds by way of paper towel and masking tape I began to think about the cold and how it can be isolating for some (also read “me”.) Technology for all its dazzle and convenience can have the same effect.
A great example is the loss of cursive handwriting as a standard course in schools. According to USA Today, schools are increasingly forgoing the old standards for new Common Core standards, which focus on computer use and keyboarding skills. After all, those standards will be evaluated by computer testing. What we lose here is not a needed skill in the writing itself, but the ability to communicate with each other thoughtfully and elegantly.
I suppose it is still possible to craft a thoughtful email or carve a striking narrative from a 140-character tweet, but recent history has shown this is not likely to happen. If you disagree take a look at the words added to the Oxford English Dictionary in the past couple of years. You will find it bespeckled with a terse lexicon that is anything but thoughtful and elegant. Forgive me if this change in the way we interact with each other causes me to neither LOL nor ROFL. (As a side note, bespeckled is not in my Word dictionary but LOL and ROFL are present and accounted for.)
There are things we can do to slow this change and ensure that the important people in our lives remain connected in real time in this age of everything electronic. Here is my top 3:
1) Write a letter and send it through the mail. That means affixing postage after contemplating thoughts and carefully transcribing them without the benefit of delete or insert. If you pause and ask yourself to whom you should send a letter, then you have proven my point. Even if you think no one in your world would enjoy a handwritten letter always remember that there are people who would appreciate the thought; who may struggle to find a companion for the holidays.
2) Read a book and discuss it with others. Please don’t reach for you Kindle or Nook after reading this. I am suggesting that you go to the bookstore or to the library and curl up with a honest-to-goodness paper-and-binding book. Granted there is the added danger of paper cuts but I say throw caution to the wind. There is nothing more enjoyable than the weight of a book, the feel of turning pages or the smell of a well-worn second hand tome.
3) Have a conversation with someone that is in the same room as you. Technology can do a lot but it still falls short when it comes to interpreting meaning in a message or showing the full emotion attached to a thought. Both parties in the communication have to do a bit more work to ensure they are understood and are understanding. I am sure you have, as have I, written an email in the heat of frustration or anger and clicked the send button before your wits caught up with you. There is not a lot that can undo this except a lucky spam filter or mistyping the email address. You may not get the chance to have this person in the room with you to set things right.
We are bound to rely more heavily on personal electronics this time of year because we are busy and have things to do and not enough time. Every time we unplug from technology we get the opportunity to express our humanness and celebrate those things that technology still cannot accomplish.
Please do not misunderstand. I am surrounded by my computers and tablets and cellular phones used for texting. But, I am also surrounded by equal or greater parts pen and pencil, notepad and book.