Typewriters to Texting

The wonder of effective communication hit me powerfully the other day.  I was sitting in the lodge at Mammoth Mountain, my ski resort in Southern California, early in the morning before the lifts had opened. My wife was eating breakfast, I was drinking coffee, and I wanted to check on a dear friend who lives in North Carolina, so I sent him a quick text.

Moments later, I received a reply from an airport where he happened to be, waiting for his luggage, in Vietnam. Here I was waiting out a snow storm at a ski resort in California while he was waiting for his luggage at a sweltering airport in Vietnam, our connection being our smart phones and our respective tiny keyboards. I’ve known DW since nursery school, which is what we called pre-school when he and I were growing up.

Being the nostalgic guy I am, I just sat there and marveled at how much the world had changed, for he and I, since those nursery school days and how communication had changed in the decades we’ve known each other.

It really is not only a walk down the proverbial memory lane, but a look at the changing methods of communication we’ve lived through. At first, being single digit aged boys, our communication consisted of playing together. That meant primitive games of toy soldiers in each others backyards. We didn’t even talk on the phone to arrange getting together as our moms made the arrangements.

Later, in our teens, we attended different schools, but saw each other at teen events through our religious school. When we attended different colleges, we stayed in touch by hand-written or type-written letters.

From that point on through the next several decades, the cost of long-distance calling stayed prohibitive, something our children know nothing about, so DW and I stayed in touch by two methods. Hand-written or type-written letters, snail-mailed to one another as he had moved over-seas shortly after college and later, audio letters that we recorded on cassette tapes via portable cassette recorders we each bought.

This lasted post the CD-era and post the period when long-distance phone calls were less prohibitive and cell-phones had become ubiquitous. It had just become our habit. When personal computers began intruding on our lives, we did slowly begin to switch from the audio tapes and written letters to e-mailing. But, it felt like we’d lost a communication friend during that changeover.

There was a multiple-year period, during which time many of these technological advances were becoming commonplace, when our friendship became dormant. Nothing dramatic had occurred between us. Maybe the simplicity of communicating with pen and paper had been the glue that held us together, maybe not. Who knows?

When we did resume our friendship about 3 years ago, after he’d returned to the States and settled in North Carolina, we did adopt the modern methods of e-mail and cell-phone communication as our primary ways of staying in touch, plus the occasional text as mentioned at the beginning of this article.

I wonder what will be this sort of nostalgia for our children? Will they look fondly back at Janet Jackson’s SuperBowl expose or Brittany Spears kiss with Madonna? Will Brangelina be something they think about with fond memory or will it be their first iPod or iPad? Maybe their first laptop or first flat-screen television will touch them the way my Davy Crockett hat did? Again, who knows? Will a particularly cute rap song about killing police make them smile in fond thoughts of yesteryear as watching The Beatles sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on “The Ed Sullivan Show” does for me? I wonder? Will they marvel at how slow the Internet was when they were kids when they can talk to every appliance in their homes from their flying cars?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see as the marvel of technology marches inexorably on…

Postscript: I wrote an article a while ago, Text, Steve, Text, about a friend of mine who had thus far refused to learn to text, but shortly after the article’s publication he did, in fact, learn and begin texting. We felt, here at BoomerTechTalk, that Steve was possibly one of our first success stories. Steve and I now regularly have effective communication via texting and I love having that additional tool to use with him.

  • http://twitter.com/CuteMonsterDad CuteMonster

    Thought provoking post Bruce. Without question technology advances regardless of whether we’re able to adapt/accept the changes encompassed in progress. Perhaps everyone has lost the inherent value and thoughtfulness involved in the composition of the handwritten letter yet we’ve gained in the immediacy to contact loved ones. The power of images have also come to the forefront. From the latest silly yet adorable child photo to the horrors of the battlefield, the information is literally at our fingertips on demand. I sometimes wonder if Billy Joel has considered updating his song “We didn’t Start the Fire.” – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR-A4QFHZBA The lyrics reflect events that unfolded from 1949 to 1989. Perhaps he’ll pen another ditty in the year 2019.

    Vincent | CuteMonster.com

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Another great comment CM. You point out the fact that with all the progress we get, we may lose something along the way but in looking back we can’t be so nostalgic that we don’t recognize the progress. After all, we have cures for diseases that killed so many of our parent’s generation. So, there is much good with modern technology and in no way do I mean to disparage that. Yet, I can’t help reflect on some of the losses that come with the good like Cindy said in the previous comment about the simplicity of just playing outside! Thanks so much for your comment! Let’s start a drive to get Billy Joel to update that song! Stranger things have happened!

  • http://lifeonprint.wordpress.com Cindy H

    So very true…I feel like such an oldster! I often talk to my son (15) as well as the children I work with about the days of no remote controls, corded telephones, and 8 track tapes…ahhhh the good ol’ days, when life was simple, we played out side till after dark, we would lay on the sand and find animals in the clouds…so very different from today. I love today’s technology, but I often wish that my son could experience the wonderful, carefree world of “back then”
    It will be very interesting and yes to me a bit scary to see what the future holds in the very fast paced changing world of ours. So until then, I lift my tumbler of Tang to you as we buckle our seatbelts (now required) and zoom into the future! Full Speed Ahead!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      8-Tracks! Wow. Thanks for the very thoughtful comment Cindy. We can’t help but wax poetic about the past, especially as parents. I think every generation does. It’s just that things move so much faster now. I appreciate your support. I guess we’ll just have to see (what the future brings). For me, life is like a great book or movie…can’t wait to see what’s next (just as you said!).

  • Poolman56

    Wow, Bruce, you sure took me down memory lane. My mom through away all those great albums including Sgt. Peppers. Care to sell it? I think I still have my college typewriter buried somewhere in my garage.

  • http://www.mochadad.com mochadad

    We have many more ways to communicate, but many people feel more disconnected than ever. I teach a class a my church called, “Authentic Relationships.” In the class, people tell me how they yearn for true connections and close relationships with other people. We need to slow down and focus on nurturing our relationships. A perfectly well-written e-mail message or a perfectly timed text can have the same impact as a hand written letter. But I think face-to-face communication is the best way to grow a relationship.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      IRL, to use a techie acronym (In Real Life) will never be replaced by any technology. Perfectly stated MochaDad. Thank You!

  • http://www.RegainYourRelationship.Com Terez

    I’m 41, but I remember 8 track tapes, cassette tapes, walkmans, having to type book reports and term papers on typewriters, etc. Our current technology is indeed a marvel, but too many of us take it for granted. Recently, I was on a Skype call with associates living in Australia, Canada and France! It boggles the mind to think how our world will change 10 to 15 years down the road. My feeling is, no matter what technological wonders are next down the pike, we should remember the still most important assets we ever have are our relationships and friendships.
    Another great post Bruce!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Wow, I didn’t realize you were that old Terez…lol. I barely remember my 40’s! My 40th birthday present was my first son! I think the hardest thing about emerging technology is just the speed at which we’re progressing. Just think how much has changed in the last century, the last couple of decades? So, when you say what might occur in the next 10-15 years it does indeed boggle the mind Terez! Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. I, too, love that you can “talk” to people all over the world via something like Skype. Waaaayy cool!

  • DW

    This is DW, whom Bruce mentioned in the article. Yes, we have known each other since nursery school. We had play dates together all the time growing up…they were not called “play dates,” though, it was just my mother informing me, “I’m going to drop you off at Brucie’s house to play,” or surely the other way around (i.e., “Brucie, I’m going to drop you off at David’s house to play”). By the way, long before Bruce and I were in junior high (a.k.a. “middle school”), he was called “Bruce,” so no “Brucie” cracks, y’all! Well, Bruce has given a pretty good summary of our modes of communication and how they’ve changed. Apart from that, I have recently embarked on a pen-and-paper campaign. I send people actual letters (or blank cards I write in) by postal mail instead of emailing. Not so much the people I am in frequent contact with, but those I have contact with no more than about 3-4 times a year at most. Sometimes I hand-write, but my penmanship has never been good, so I don’t do that except for short letters/notes. Sometimes I typewrite the correspondence, using an old typewriter. Other times, I computer-generate and print out the letter. But the handwritten letters get enthusiastic reception! I have heard or read that this is a small-scale movement, i.e., a movement to get people to write letters again. I don’t know who’s behind it, but I’m for it.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      One of the things that DW didn’t mention and that I didn’t include in the article, because it wasn’t on point, is that I’ve counted on DW, my whole life, to be in essence my personal “hard drive.” The reason is that he has a truly incredible memory for details, names, dates, and such that I forget too easily. He will remember the name of some friend I had or some gal I may have briefly dated back in college, and remember every little thing that I related about the friend or date, while I’ve forgotten it all. It’s like having my own personal data bank. For that reason alone, plus he’s the all-time trivia expert, I can NEVER lose touch with him whatever method of communication he chooses to use. I’ll use carrier pigeons if he insists.

  • Susankaywyatt

    It boggles my mind how far we’ve come with techology! It all really happened so fast and is getting faster. Bruce, you’ll be happy to know my mom who is 66 years old starting texting. She kicked and screamed for a bit over it. She was scared! She also has a facebook page. She says she wants to “keep up with” and “be in contact with” her grandchildren. GO MOM GO!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Susan, you should turn your Mom onto our website because it will help her out and is designed for people like her that know they should be doing this stuff but, as you say, are “kicking and screaming” all the way! But, once they “get it,” they love it, especially when they can “communicate” with their loved ones! THAT is the part of all this that is wonderful! Appreciate the comment Susan! Thanks so much.

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ The JackB

    My dad and I were just talking about how in some ways my generation and his are closer in how we grew up than the “youngsters” we see today.

    He is 67 and I am 41. Our first television sets were black and white, we both used typewriters in college and understand what it means to be told that our penmanship is bad. The Cold War isn’t something that happened a thousand years ago and we understand that pen pals doesn’t refer to an “app.”

    It is funny to think now of how much easier it is to stay in touch now, but as was said earlier, people feel more disconnected. I wonder too what our kids will remember fondly, I hope that it will be moments that they spent “talking” with friends. That sort of communication is more important than all this other stuff.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Jack, there really seems to be a consistent thread in the comments made so far and you’ve noted it well. Often it’s called a “generation gap” and you could attribute some of what is being said here to that, but I think it is deeper in that these communication changes are keeping people (aka our kids) separate from each other except for when they’re at school. More and more people are also working from home and communicating work related things via electronic means. Obviously, some of these developments are terrific, but some are not so great. I also am fascinated that every comment on this post, so far, has been really thoughtful and relatively lengthy given our 140-twitter age. As a writer who sometimes agonizes over every word, I can’t express how much YOUR feedback means to me and us at BTT! Thanks so very much!

  • Bill Connors

    Interesting read Bruce. In addition to the ready availability of communication options we now have changing the fundamentals of how we communicate with each other – I often wonder if it sometimes doesn’t contribute to the length of time between such communications. Not so much in the obvious way of being able to overccommunicate but in under communicating. Do some of us, knowing that we can reach out at any time – inadvertently let too much time pass before restablishing contact? Does the idea of being able to make that low cost cell phone, send a quick email or use Facebook or Twitter cause us to procrastinate? Just a thought – that your post evoked.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I don’t know Bill, I’ll have to get back to you on that…

  • Anonymous

    Excellent write Bruce. Our culture is shifting much more rapidly than we were children. Our kids will talk about their friends across the globe.
    Glad Steve came on board texting – it really is a useful tool.
    Thanks for the DM btw Bruce – Smiles

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      And thanks for the comment, Leslie! You might get a kick out of my son Aaron’s first color cartoon, his tenth “It’s a Tech World After All” for BTT – not too bad for a 14-year-old and quite a challenge being “his boss!” Now, THAT is a communication challenge regardless of technology!

  • http://www.daddoes.com Dan Dad Does

    Very interesting post – nice job. I think about how technology has changed the way we communicate all the time. In the example you give with DW – great how Texting allows you to connect and stay in touch – no matter where on the planet you both are. However, I am a little more concerned with how kids use texting today. It often seems like kids text instead of talking to their friends. I saw 5 teenagers all sitting around a table, silent – except for the sound of their little keyboards, as they text’d each other. Why not put down the phones and talk to each other – they were all right there!

    Okay, I am starting to sound like a crazy old man. Simply put – technology is wonderful and can change our lives for the better. However, any technology can cut both ways – we just need to make sure we don’t lose the art of verbal one on one communication in the process.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I so agree with you Dan. And, it’s changed so quickly just with my two boys! And, they’re only 3 years apart. My younger son almost totally communicates via texting with his friends. I do think this is a disturbing trend as we parents aren’t getting to even meet our kids’ friends! Plus, what kind of socialization are they learning? To type fast? Great point. Wow, I’m so intrigued that this post has stimulated such thoughtful comments. Maybe we’ve touched a nerve? Thanks so much for your comment Dan and your regular support of BTT!

  • Ffacsb

    I can relate to the look back. I have the same conversation just recently. And we conclude that ‘flight’ was and still is THE greatest marvel of humankind to date.
    As for ‘texting’ as a viable form of social connectedness. NO.
    And, I do not and will not text. Email, yes, voicemail, yes, phonecall, yes, in person, most definitely YES.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      I would argue that Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press may have been the greatest marvel of humankind to date Ffacsb! But, that is a worthwhile debate to have, especially in light of WHO WANTS TO TRAVEL NOWADAYS BY AIR anyway! Lol. Much appreciate your comment and even more your attitude! A person (don’t know if you’re a man or woman) apparently like my own snarky self!.

  • Anonymous

    I was speaking with an architect last night, whose son is also in architecture school. His son said he may not want to become an architect, and “spend all my time in front of a computer screen.” I remember when being a young architect meant “spending all your time in front of a drafting table”… technology marches on, but the experience of life often remains amazingly similar!

  • http://twitter.com/jrotem r. jean roth

    There’s a kind of irony in that the digital world is what allowed me to pursue a latter-day career in graphic design, and yet my hand-written letters to my friends in high school and college were always tons more creative than any email I might send now, filled with goofy sketches, cartoons and exuberant handwriting.

    By the way, kids in Long Island found out some time around 1971 that if you stayed on the telephone long enough for the dial tone to stop, you’d be on a party line, connected with anyone else who did the same thing for miles around. Talk about viral! Knowledge of this secret “chat room” spread like wildfire among local teens only slightly slower than twitter and was used successfully for at least a couple of months (esp for hook ups, parties, etc) before the phone company caught on and cut of off. :)

    The more things change, well, the more they don’t, really. 😉

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Party Lines – Wow! Another great memory. We had those, too, all the way on the West Coast. You are so right R. Jean when you say “The more things change…the more they don’t…” And, boy, do I agree about the creativity of hand-written letters! Heck, just look at what my son is doing with the little writing he has available in his “It’s a Tech World After All” cartoons. It’s sort of forcing him to choose his words so wisely. Thanks so much for the comment. I’m bowled over by the comments this post has stimulated.

  • http://twitter.com/whopaysthepiper Argentum Vulgaris

    Great article. I had a Davy Crockett hat, I have never texted. My nostalgia extends a fraction beyond yours. I have read many posts about yesteryear and what kids of today think the days when we had to go out on the street to make a phone call and actually put money in the phone to do so. I commented just this evening that technology is overtaking me, and i have not great wish to catch up. Good read.


    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Another great comment…and how ironic Argentum that you signed it with your initials AV, which you and I remember as standing for audio-visual when we were kids! Heck, in Junior High School which is what they called Middle School when I went to it, “back in the day,” I “worked” in the AV department which meant I got to get out of class to show 16 mm movies to various classes. I’d roll the projector from class to class and thread the actual movie film and run the projector to show the movie. Now, every school room have their own DVD player. Yup, times have changed. Thanks so much for the comment AV!

  • GradyGonzales

    This post is so much fun as it took me back to my college days and lugging around my portable typewriter and the days of Fortran and my first forays into computers. I hated it. Thank God for the advances since then. But, there was something for slide-rules, and note-taking, and the simplicity of seeing movies ONLY in theaters and such back in my day in the late fifties and sixties. I loved my 45’s and my record-player. I loved collecting record albums and my crates of them and how I stored and carried them with me everywhere. I just didn’t like how heavy they were.

    Thanks for the memories, as Bob Hope would say. Loved it Bruce. And, love your site. Am learning much from it.

  • http://twitter.com/BloggerTalk Rose DesRochers

    Times have certainly changed. I watched St Elmos Fire the other day and felt old. As for texting I just learned and and am getting pretty good. If you want to keep up to the kids you need to learn to text.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Rose, you just learned to text? Wow, will surprises never cease? Thanks so much for the comment. It’s so funny about how we react to those seminal movies of our respective times. You are MUCH younger than me, but when I watch the movies of my youth, I get very melancholy reflecting on the passage of time.

  • mcb1219

    We must have been on the same wavelength this week! I love living in the digital age.

  • K. Wildman

    Wow so true how times have changed, I wonder what will become of even our annual Christmas cards I have exchanged for years with old friends. I would wait to see pictures of children and how they have grown. But now we all see each other on facebook and other picture sharing sites like kodak. I haven’t received as many picture cards as I have in the past… I miss it

    • http://ItsDifferent4girls.com Linda Sherman

      I DO miss those photo holiday cards.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      That’s so funny because my wife and I were remarking on exactly that today! Not only don’t we send out cards anymore but so few of our friends do anymore. Sort of sad, don’t you think K. Wildman? Thanks so much for the comment! Much appreciated!

  • Irwinde

    I almost always hand write letters with my Shaeffer fountain pen. It is the only writing implement that makesy cursive writing clear.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      And, isn’t there something that just feels terrific about doing that Irwinde? Thanks for sharing that. There’s a great store in our area that carries classic and beautiful pens and it’s fun to just browse and look at them. I like to imagine the great authors using a beautiful quill and ink!

  • Baharrison

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. People still communicate with each other in a variety of ways, music is still music to a teen’s ears and not to their parents, and the memories they make with their friends and culturally will be as vivid to them as yours are to you, and your parents were to them. Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, The Beatles, The Stones, Kayne West, Lady GaGa – the wireless, the television, the computer, all spin memories for teens that will last them (and their parents) a lifetime.

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Who is Lady GaGa? I couldn’t agree more but I find many teens, of every generation take an interest in previous generation’s music. I did in my parent’s music as my teen has in my music. BUT, the music of their growing up years will still be their primary music when we speak of music. I can’t help but wonder, with music, if my son will be humming rap songs and other kids with sagging tattoos will be fondly remembering those song lyrics and enjoying those tats in their seventies? Who knows? Appreciate the comment!

  • Luke

    My nostalgic list:
    1. hand-written letters to and from my grandmother when I first arrived here (the U.S.) at the age of 25.
    2. the agonizing slowness of dial-up
    3. the “miracle” of my first cell phone (as much as I love my iPhone, I don’t think it will leave a lasting impression).

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      What is it about nostalgia that really gets us all? I had almost forgotten “the agonizing slowness of dial-up” Luke! I’m not sure I appreciate the reminder! Lol. But, the miracle of my first cell-phone does remain with me. It may not have been my first, but I was on the set of a movie, in Canada, in a blistering storm. I had one of those HUGE cell-phones. I was bundled up in a big down jacket and looked like the Michelin tire man. It was snowing and there was filming going on in the background. I was speaking on my big ol’ cell phone with the studio or network back in L.A. and realized what a miracle it was. Here I was freezing my a#$% off while my movie was going on, my breathe was coming out in frost, and I was talking on a phone! Now, we take it for granted. I wonder what your grandmother would think? Thanks so much for the comment Luke!

  • Pingback: Evolution of Technology - Vinyl Records with Professor David E Weber()