As I read the epilogue to Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall: Social Media—The First 2,000 Years, I was struck by a particular sentiment that Standage could have lifted verbatim from Baron’s A Better Pencil, namely that “[n]ew technologies are often regarded with suspicion” (247). In addition to this initial resonance, what I would like to call particular attention to is Standage’s subsequent discussion of how old and new technologies come to blows at each stage of technological innovation: “There is always an adjustment period when new technologies appear, as societies work out the appropriate etiquette for their use and technologies are modified in response. During this transitional phase, which takes years or even decades, technologies are often criticized for disrupting existing ways of doing things. But the technology that is demonized today may end up being regarded as wholesome and traditional tomorrow, by which time another apparently dangerous new invention will be causing the same concerns” (247).
What we get, then, is a vicious cycle of resentment, hesitation, and adoption that seems to go on and on, forever and ever, Amen.
And here is where I’ll do my best digital impression of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City: But what about those of us who have grown up with access to multiple reformed-rake technologies at once? Do older technologies ever cease to disappear completely, or do we find ways to still use them? Do we manage to juggle both old and new technologies simultaneously, and if so, how? And how does this wide array of options alter the ways in which we interact with each other?
As Standage quotes from Sherry Turkle, she expresses similar concerns: she “worries about the ‘flight from conversation,’ citing teenagers who would rather send a text than make a phone call” (247). But what exactly prompts this “flight from conversation”? Is it a fear of the level of intimacy that certain technologies afford? Is it an unwillingness to use them? Or is it simply a matter of access?
Take a look at the following clip before submitting your final answer (disclaimer: amateur vocal performance by yours truly, ahoy!) Below is a still from the scene I just “performed” (read: butchered). L to R: Marnie (Allison Williams) and Hannah (Lena Dunham).
Update! (as of 2/25): A friend of mine managed to find a clip of the original scene! It’s not even 30 seconds, so feel free to watch it and perform a little bit of an adaptation analysis.
And I would have to agree with Marnie: we arrange various forms of digital communication into a hierarchy that suits our needs and our personalities. In short, we create our own “totem[s] of chat.” As Marnie’s version of her “totem of chat” suggests, old and new technologies can coexist, although how harmoniously they do is up for debate, evidenced by Hannah’s inability to contact her on-again off-again booty call Adam and her unwillingness to “bite the bullet,” as it were, and call him directly.
What I’d like to argue, then, is that we all engage in some kind of “flight from conversation,” however (sub)consciously, for all three of the reasons I listed above: a fear of intimacy, a personal unwillingness, and/or a lack of access. But unlike the Roman authors who just “varied their writing styles depending on the audience they were addressing” (27), we not only cater our digital correspondences to our specific intended audience but also change that audience entirely.
If my memory serves, the major selling feature of Google+ when it first arrived on the scene in 2011 was its ability organize your friends into various circles, all of which came with a different level of access to your personal information and updates. But nowadays we don’t need Google+ to create those concentric circles of caprice for us. Quite the contrary: we have numerous options for social media that allows us to choose where we do and do not follow certain people. For instance, casual friends may opt to follow each other on Twitter because of its “microblogging” style and low level of personal connection/commitment compared to something like Facebook. Or, if we want to remove textual communication from the picture, we can opt instead to follow that friend or acquaintance on Instagram, where nothing says friendship like “favoriting” a picture of someone’s latest meal or knitting venture, #nofilter.
Clearly I’ve exposed a portion of my own “totem of chat,” so, what’s yours?