From the letter to the telegram to the telephone, we progressed in our technology toward better, more direct, and faster means of communicating with one another. But, as newer technologies intervened, starting with the answering machine, followed by voice mail and caller ID, people gained more control. At first this was simply a matter of being able to screen messages and retrieve them remotely.
But then we got email, cell phones, instant messaging, Facebook, tweets, and texting. The result is that we have many and various options for staying in ever closer touch with everybody we know, wherever they are—we don’t even have to know where they are in order to contact them. That’s the good part of the story. However there’s a whole lot more to this revolution in communication that makes interactions more complicated. Many people have re-assigned the bulk of their social lives to the digital realm. Some shun the telephone—not just their landlines but their cell lines as well. “Voice-to-voice” has become passé. “Can you hear me now?” practically irrelevant.
Testing and IM’ing have actually affected how many compose emails, so that what one communicates becomes spare, even truncated, cryptic, verging on the primitive. And the emoticons, which have become another code for roughly expressing or boldly dictating the tone a message is meant to be written in and understood, seem to be no more than a half-hearted effort to make up for the failures of the little language that is left.