Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Email, Telephones and Private Life

Viewed from the perspective of 50ish person, born in the 1960’s, modern life has changed in many ways, many of them quite positive.  Some of the more invasive features of the last twenty years are cellular telephones and email.  While they have clearly made the world smaller, they have whittled down our private life to almost nothing, unfortunately.

Before their invention and popularization, communication was through a telephone, line-linked object generally limited to three a house.  Because you had to sit next to it to speak, its location was of prime importance. In other words, if you were not next to a telephone, you were free or cutoff, according to your perspective.  If by chance people had to make a phone call outside their residence, they had to find a phone booth and carry small change or phone tokens, depending on the country.  As for international communication, both long distance phone calls and telegraphs were expensive and were generally used to inform people of deaths and births. Since international or national written correspondence took time to reach its addressee, there was simply more time between messages.

By contrast today, thanks to cellular technology, people can call from anywhere, even in remote wilderness areas.  Since the cost is minor in terms of people’s overall budget, people use the telephone even (or mainly) when they have nothing to say.  The classic example is the Sunday train in Israel, filled with soldiers on their way to their bases and buzzing with intelligent dialogue of this nature: “What’s up?  I’m on way to the base?  And you? See you there.”  This sheer mindlessness can go for two straight hours as the bored soldiers contacts each person in his or her directory.  Friends sit together and talk with other people on their telephone at the same time.

For us freelancers, the Internet and email have created constant and instant linkage with customers throughout the world as well as an unending, frantic pace of written communication.  Psychologically, my business day only ends when I arbitrarily decide that I am no longer obliged to respond to emails at a certain hour.  I fully understand the logic behind the new law proposal in France closing the employer/employee cellular communication at the end of the working day.  Slavery was made illegal a few centuries ago.

So, the revolution in communication has brought us all together, which is rather nice sometimes.  On the other hand, it has created a huge mass of noise, with too few quiet spots to think and enjoy the sunset or your thoughts.  Personally, for business purposes, I cannot live without email.  However, in terms of cellular phone use, I remain a happy dinosaur, not even knowing my own mobile phone number.  I try to protect my private time and enjoy the benefits of both worlds, the old and the new.


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