04 August 2014

Texting, How a Fear of Loss Drives Politics, and an Octogenarian's Idea for an App

It had been too long since I’d seen Bernard, my invisible octogenarian friend. (Although he hates that I point this out about him, the fact that he’s invisible. He said it hardly matters anymore what with all the time people spend in the virtual world.) He was excitedly explaining his latest idea to me even before I sat down.

“I’ve got an idea for an app,” he announced.
“You? You, an 80 year old who still hasn’t learned how to use a Typewriter, are going to create an app?”
He waved his hand. “I didn’t say I was going to program it. I just have an-,” and before I could respond he said, “Just shut up and listen to this idea I have about communication.”
I had to laugh. “Your idea about communication is that I shut up?”
“Well, no. I mean, I guess yes.” He stopped and shook his head. “See. This is why you have to just let me talk.”

“I want to create something that will be better than texting or email.” His eyes lit up and he fanned his hands like a magician,” Imagine that when you communicate with someone you have to think about what you are saying and compose your thoughts onto a page. Take the time to write sentences and paragraphs. And then once you are done – a process that could take an hour or even span days – you would have to enclose this note manually into a slender container that you would also write upon and then take to one of thousands of boxes scattered throughout the city. From there, someone would take it to the person you wrote to. Then you would wait for a reply. And that reply might take days or weeks.”
“That’s your app,” I grimace. “Really?”
“Well, that’s pretty visionary. I mean, if you were living in the 18th century. You’ve basically described the US Postal Service.”
“I know! But don’t tell the kids that!”
“Why, Bernard?”

“Well rather than encourage kids to communicate whatever feeling disguised as a thought that would flit through their consciousness like a moth chasing a firefly, the way that texting does, it would force them to be more thoughtful, to write about things that would still matter in two weeks. It would teach delay of gratification, forcing them to wait for that most essential of human needs, communication. And all of this combined would encourage Victorian values.”

“You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?”
“Of course. What else do I have to do with my spare time?”
“I always thought of you as more modern, Bernard. Victorian values? Really?”
“I think we could use those,” he said, sitting back defensively.
“Isn’t it a little late for that?”

“Maybe,” he acknowledged petulantly. “But think about how indulgent we’ve become. It’s old people who vote Republican. They don’t do this because they’re trying to create a better world. They do this because they are afraid that if Democrats win the election they’ll take their money. And young people vote Democrat. Why? Because they’re afraid that if Republicans win they won’t let them have sex.
“Our politics aren't driven by any vision of the future. It’s driven by fear of loss, people desperately grasping onto their little trinkets disguised as treasures."
"Well I don't know Bernard," I interrupted. "I'm middle aged. I happen to think that money and sex are pretty cool. You could have worse trinkets."
He sighed. "My point is that politics are driven by fear of loss, not hope for gain. Victorian values would do people some good, teach them to think about what they’re creating rather than what they have, teach them to consider denial rather than indulgence.”

“So texting has made us short-sighted.”
“Well of course it has. How else do you explain it?”
Even with stationary and a lazy afternoon before me, I don’t think that I could have managed a proper response.

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