ON HAND: IM, VP, e-mail, pagers, oh my!

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

I remember being a teenager and having to wait for weeks for letters from a boy I liked in Washington, DC, and from another boy in England (we won’t discuss how many crushes I had in high school)–the wait was almost unbearable. I also remember the long-distance phone bills I ran up, which was much to my mother’s dismay.

Today, we have pagers, email, instant messages (IM), web cams, and videophones. I love receiving immediate responses to my messages, and being able to email or IM with my 81-year-old hearing grandmother on a daily basis.

Still, I wonder sometimes if the availability of immediate communication makes life almost too convenient. It seems almost as if many of us are slowly and unintentionally replacing live, in-the-flesh relationships with technology-driven relationships. I’ve been to the wedding of a couple that met on-line, and they’re blissfully married today with kids.

Yet I also know of other people who have gotten wrapped up in online relationships without having ever met in person. I even have a few friends I’ve become IM buddies with but never met in person. Is this good or bad? I really don’t know.

But I know one thing: my life has become dependent upon technology. A couple of weeks ago and then again over the weekend, a major wireless provider had a server go down. The problems with this were monumental–messages were not sent or received immediately and arrived hours or days later. This made for a lot of confusion and moments of wondering. It affected my day-to-day operations at my job, and I felt disconnected from both colleagues and friends for a few days. I’ve become so accustomed to instant gratification that if my messages aren’t responded to quickly, I feel cut off or ignored. And this made an interesting question for me: have I become too dependent on instant communication?

At a recent basketball tournament, coverage was nonexistent for the Sidekick pager, so most of us were pagerless for the weekend. At one point during the boys’ championship game, I looked around at the bleachers. Nobody was interrupting each other by suddenly looking down at their pagers. Even though it was difficult to make plans with people, it was surprisingly easy to live without the pager. In fact, I felt almost liberated.

Of course, as soon as I drove back into range, I quickly hunched over my pager and checked for messages.

I’ve tried to live a life of simplicity and ease out here in the boondocks of Minnesota. But I wouldn’t be able to have this life or keep in touch with friends from all over the world if not for the Internet–a Catch-22 situation. So I’ve made a conscious choice to appreciate the availability of instant communication, but to also make an effort in keeping friendships intact by seeing them in person.

Until then, they can IM, e-mail, page, or call me on the videophone…

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