Since the Internet entered the public consciousness in 1995, and especially since the dawn of social media, we have been inundated with new ways to communincate with each other. In less than a generation, the perception of being “connected” has changed radically. During the last fifteen years we have developed a plethora of new ways to stay in touch with each other: pagers, e-mail, cell phones, texting, instant messaging, web cams, Skype, lifecasting, Facebook, Twitter etc.
Naturally, this shift made me think about communication in general and the degree to which technology and infrastructure is necessary to send messages back and forth. For the bulk of our communication, we now require not only power sources, but satellites, networks of cell phone towers and thousands of miles of fibre optic cables.
This increasing reliance on increasingly sophisticated technology reminded me of an e-mail exchange I had with a co-worker a few years ago. I was working from home that day, so I sent an e-mail message to everyone in my department stating “I’ll be working from home today – if you want to reach me, then send me an e-mail. If it’s urgent, then here’s my home phone number”. A smart-aleck co-worker e-mailed back “What if your phone is busy?”. So I countered with “Then I’m probably on the Internet [I had a dial-up connection back then] so call me on my cell phone”. Within a minute, he e-mailed again and asked “What if your cell phone is busy too? Then what?”.
Rather than ignore him, his question actually got me thinking about the different ways we have of communicating, and this eventually became an exercise in creativity for me. So I replied “Then you’ll just have to be creative – let me give you some suggestions:”.
* Buy some chalk, and write your message on the sidewalk in front my residence. If your message contains an attachment or has multiple recipients, then you may want to set aside an afternoon.
* Pretend that you’re Martin Luther and nail a detailed missive onto my door.
* On bright sunny days, use a pocket mirror to flash your message in Morse code in the general direction of Mississauga.
* If your message is not particularly time-sensitive, then find out which magazines and newspapers I read, and then take out a full-page advertisement.
* I live west of the city, and my apartment faces east. Since I can see the downtown skyline from my window, feel free to grab a blanket, wood, and matches, climb one of the office towers, and send your message to me via a smoke signal. To be honest, I don’t actually know how to read smoke signals, but at least I’ll know that you want to tell me something.
* Climb onto the roof one of the office towers, and shout really, really loudly toward the suburbs.
* Write your message on a small scrap of paper (maximum 140 characters), fasten it gently but securely to a carrier pigeon, and then instruct it to fly to my front door.
* If you’re trying to contact friends who have a view of the lake and who can see the boat traffic – walk down to the Harbourfront area and then hire a water taxi. Flash a wad of cash at the operator, tell him that you seek political asylum in Mississauga, and that he will be paid handsomely for his efforts and his discretion.
* Write your message on a sheet of paper. Fold the paper into an airplane; climb one of the office towers and aim it toward my apartment. If the winds are just right (and if you throw it hard enough), then it should land right on my balcony, while announcing its arrival with a gentle “thud” as its nose hits the balcony door.
* I may occasionally stare out my window if I get bored. Estimate when I’ll be bored, and then hire a skywriter to write your message in the sky over Mississauga.
* Send a (female) Strip-O-Gram to my address, with your message attached to her garter belt. Please note that any male Strip-O-Grams will be sent away immediately.
* Order a pizza (prepaid, party-size works best), have it sent to my place, and spell out your message with the pepperoni. This may require more than one pizza, but I don’t mind; I will be patient and accommodating…
While communication in the first decade of the 21st century would appear to be the province of the Internet and wireless devices, just a moment’s thought can uncover a multitude of low-tech methods of communication that aren’t dependent on a global infrastructure. As you can see, it is not essential to own a smartphone or any other mobile device in order to stay and feel connected. Quod erat demonstrandum.