Saturday, January 23, 2010

Currently reading / currently loving

Whenever I think of email, I think of the following two stories:
Over a year ago, my Nonno passed away. I was living out of province at the time, and I flew back home to northern Ontario for the service. My older sister also came home from Ottawa accompanied by her work cellphone. On the day of the funeral, my mother told, not asked, my sister to leave her blackberry behind. I remembered being overcome with laughter (generally out of place for a day marked by somberness) in the living room at my sister's expense. I found it both comical and disconcerting that my mother had to state that a cellphone was an unwelcomed "guest" at a funeral, and that my sister needed to be reminded (equally out of place because my sister would never be described as a careless person).
The second story involves my time serving at the Baha'i World Centre in Israel. Before I left Toronto, I explicitly told friends that I would not be in touch via email, but rather by way of letter-writing. I arrived in Haifa with the feeling of not wanting to be "chained" to a chorus of email updates and "how are you's?" So, if friends wanted to hear from me, it would require them writing back. I forsook immediacy for a desire for something more that I couldn't quite articulate at the time.
Last weekend, I came across those very letters I received while living in Israel, and I spent part of an afternoon re-reading them. They continue to serve as beautiful "snapshots" of moments of life. The bulk of the letters are heartfelt or funny (or both), and they are so much more insightful and lovely than most emails I send or receive. I find that individuals "speak" differently in letters, and letter-writing is by far less time-consuming. Plus, is there anything sweeter than receiving a hand-written note?
So, what does all of this have to do with Freeman's book? Freeman is able to express what I haven't been able to regarding the whole "instant communication" business. He reminds the reader that email, although a wonderful gem in some circumstances, in many ways problematizes and tyrannizes our lives. Written communication was once a prisoner to a more organic, and hence, slower speed (by feet, by carriage, by train, by plane). We are now enslaved to the speed of electricity. I wish I could get away with checking my email once a week. I've often wanted to include an email "disclaimer" informing recipients to take a minimum of a month before they set upon replying. Being "virtually" connected all the time is seldom living or connecting. I'm hoping that Freeman goes on to write about the "tyranny" of "voice mail," "text messaging," "facebook" (aka the cult of self), "twitter," "Krysta's iphone that she hopes to toss into the Great Lake once her contract expires" or whatever future accelerated forms of communication awaits us. Hopefully, I will be dead.

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