Friday, April 11, 2014

The busy signal fades to silence

Click graphic to enlarge
I'm pretty lucky in a whole lot of ways. First, I'm here. Never underestimate the power of simply being on this planet. Next, I'm able to communicate. I say or write stuff, and for reasons that still make no sense to me - but for which I am eternally grateful - folks listen and respond. You can touch people with words, and that's an immensely gratifying thing.

So when I idly tapped out this tweet late last week and hit the send button, I didn't give much thought to it. I had just called someone and got a busy signal - a simple moment, really, and likely not one worth holding onto. But I held onto it anyway because I'm guessing my brain works in weird ways.
And as I held the phone to my ear and listened to the repeating tone, I realized I hadn't heard it in ages. I froze, not quite sure what to do next. As a pondered the absurdity of it all, I slowly realized that something fundamental had changed, yet I was too busy with everything else to have even noticed.

Thankfully my friend Dan Brown wasn't too busy. He writes for the London Free Press, and in short order had pulled together a pitch for an article and reached out to me for comment. We chatted about what it meant, and almost by osmosis - I think he reads minds - the theme almost seemed to form itself. I've posted his article here, and you can find it online here, as well: Busy signal - a blast from the past.

All of this has made me wonder. Because it's been an overwhelmingly difficult week and I find myself looking for touchstones, for opportunities to think about where all of this chaos and uncertainty fits. And here's what I've managed to come up with:

There's a subtlety to the evolution of technology, and its effect on our everyday life, that we tend to ignore. We respond intelligently to email while we fill the grocery cart. We keep projects moving forward even when we're nowhere near civilization. What used to have to wait until we were back in the office at a "real" computer can now be quickly taken care of on a device we carry in our hand.

In the middle of a frenetic day of activity yesterday, I sprinted back to my car after an interview and paused before I got in to send an email before I got back on the road. As I madly thumb-typed an answer that I hoped would lock in my next couple of assignments, I remembered that just a few short years ago I would have had to drive home first and hope I hadn't missed anything "while I was out." Well, "while you were out" is no longer part of our lexicon, and the busy signal, that stalwart dividing line between available and not available, is now more of a curiosity than anything else, something that elicits a crinkled brow from my kids. And apparently from me, as well.

Part of me wishes we did more to hold onto more pieces of our technological legacy. I'm starting to feel more reverent toward the things that once defined us but have since been replaced. It happens so quickly and subtly that I fear we're losing pieces of ourselves in the process.

I wonder what else will soon join the busy signal in that slow fade to history. And I wonder if we'll take the time to notice that it's gone.

1 comment:

Lisa Shafer said...

You also just can't let a telephone ring and ring anymore. If you let it ring more than about 8 times, a recording will break in and tell you the person's not answering (duh) and that, for a fee, the company will call you back when they contacted them.