I am a bit of a technology geek, and I love my cell phone. I really love it. My wife will tell you, with frustration in her voice, that I spend far too much time glued to it, and that every buzz, tweet, and ping captures my attention, regardless of what I’m doing. I say she exaggerates.
This little handheld marvel came into my life when a mobile phone was nearly the dimensions of a pound of butter, sporting an antenna you pulled out with authority. It seldom rang. Around the same time, personal data assistants came into being. I was one of the first on my block to own a Palm Pilot. Digital technology was expanding at an amazing pace, and taking over photography at the same time. In those days, as I patrolled the parking lots of our high school – a common activity for high school Vice-Principals – my belt was draped with clips for all my hardware. I hoped for the day when all these devices might merge into one, but that was the stuff of science fiction.
Then, that day arrived: a Telus window display for the three-in-one miracle Palm Treo stopped me in my tracks. There was no going back; three years later, the iPhone accelerated digital communications to a breath-taking pace in multiple lanes at once.
Today, we communicate by text. About ten years ago, I conducted a very informal study of our students’ use of text messaging in our school. I came up with an average of 31 texts per day, per user. This closely aligned with a serious study which found users exchanged an average of 41 texts per day… more than a decade ago. More recent estimates peg the daily average somewhere between 94 and 128 messages per day.
Today, we communicate by email. There is no point in unpacking these numbers; everyone reading this is painfully aware of the overwhelming surge of email traffic since its introduction… particularly one BCPVPA colleague whose inbox screams – in five clear digits – the number of unread messages! We all share the enormous challenge of taming the inbox.
Today, we communicate with multiple social media platforms, and we do this to such a degree that the numbers defy comprehension.
We use our phones to engage and communicate in all three of these lanes, and others: pictures, wav files, slideshows, webinars, podcasts… all comfortably stored in the dedicated zipper pockets of our latest pair of casual pants – no more belt clips!
I wonder what the statistics would say about our use of phones for the purpose behind their invention: one-to-one direct conversation. My daughters are of a generation that avoids using the phone for its original purpose. In fact, if I call my daughters, they reply with a text. And while we’ve ditched the weight of belt clips, we’ve also ditched the leash of land lines. Home land lines, like 8-tracks, are a novelty from the past. In my household, you will not hear a ringing phone but rather an assortment of ring tones. Much less frequently, you will hear the nostalgic refrain, “Hello?” Incoming calls are either from our contacts, or they are unknown and, therefore, suspicious. Who answers calls from unrecognized numbers anymore?
Long before the isolation of this pandemic, we felt great concern for the growing distance of people from one another, despite the marvelous, plentiful, and popular ways for us to connect. As connected as we are, sometimes it feels like we don’t talk to each other, especially at a time when we really need to. It can be easier – more convenient, and less vulnerable – to engage through digital mediums, avoiding the raw conversation that is unscripted and cannot be edited before pressing send. So, when an effort at a personal connection is made in the old-fashioned way, it may be frustrating and disappointing to hear a recording at the end of the line, assuring us that our call is important. Who leaves voice messages anymore?
Well, last week someone left me a voice message… on a land line. It was during the busy days of our Board Meeting and Chapter Council, which connected me to our members but separated me from the leash of the office phone. The message was from was a number I did not recognize. When I played it back late on Monday, the message began, “Darren, hi. It’s Jennifer Whiteside. I just really was calling today to catch up.” Minister Whiteside expressed her wish to check in and hear how our members are doing, particularly those under incredible strain in the areas currently affected by flooding and landslides. The Minister went further to express gratitude for the work of Principals and Vice-Principals, and closed first with an assurance that the Ministry and staff are here for our members, and then with an invitation to the BCPVPA to reach out for any assistance the Ministry can provide.
Not a text. Not an email. Not a tweet. Minister Whiteside picked up the phone, and called when it mattered. I called back. As I anticipated, Minister Whiteside was not available, but it was her own recorded voice at the end of the line. And, to be sure, after the tone, I shared my own gratitude for her thoughtful call, and then I gave her my cell number.