What the world needs now is…
telephones with cords and rotary dials


We hear about it quite often… virtually every day.

The world isn’t the same.

It isn’t the same as it was yesterday… isn’t the same as it was last year… as it was five years ago… ten years ago… a generation ago… and even longer than that.

We see technology advancing at a blistering pace… walls and barriers, both literally and figuratively, being torn down (and, if we’re being honest, being built)… the world adapting and doing new things, from how we get our news to the focus of coverage during sporting events… and the impression is that, for the most part, change is a scary thing but good overall.

I’m not so sure.

Within that concept, for the purposes of this essay, I’d like to explore the lack of formality… the lack of manners… the lack of respect that is reaching staggering levels. Because as we move ahead, increasing the speed with which we share information and the ability to follow our fantasy football teams… for me at least… the way we treat each other seems to be moving in reverse. And I wonder if anyone else is grimacing while it happens.

I’m not here to complain about cell phones. Nor do I plan to tell you I’m mad because several songs I’d like to own are only available via internet download… and I’ve never done that. That’s just the world moving on. That’s just the differences between the world today and the world when I was born, and it will continue. A great concept from Men of a Certain Age sums up the reality quite nicely: 100 years from now, same game, same challenges, all new people.

But how we treat each other… and not the adapting to change that a new day brings… that’s something different.

About fifteen years ago (actually, less), I opened up my first e-mail account. We had just bought a computer and we were looking at the internet. Soon I was playing Warcraft 2 against people from other countries.


Around that time I was working on professional and personal efforts, and with one such thought I had prepared a query for a magazine article. Just so happened I had found that the preferred submission method for one location was electronic. Proofreading and setting things up accordingly… e-mail they wanted, e-mail they got… I sent it in.

About three or four days later, I received a reply that loosely (but accurately) looked like this…

“bob –

thanks for sending the idea

i’ll get back to you soon


Let’s move back a few days before this arrived… before I clicked to send it along… before I had even composed my proposal… in fact, let’s move a few steps before any of this happened.

I happen to subscribe to the opinion that when you present something in writing, you are giving the recipient the right to judge that material as a sample of what they can expect from you.

Understand… audience matters… intent matters.

My wife and I leave notes on the counter. Shopping lists are the majority of these notes. There are scribbles indicating we need milk, bread or laundry detergent. Occasionally these notes fall into the category of reminders. A dentist appointment… a car needing an oil change… a phone call that needs to be returned or something that needs to be done the next morning before leaving for work.

Informal, informational, and casual in nature would best describe this stuff. None of these examples would ever be judged with a critical eye. (Well… unless I forgot to write down milk, she went shopping, and the next morning when she had her bowl of cereal ready she went to the fridge and found… nothing. Because I forgot the milk. But that’s a totally different type of criticism though.)

On the other hand, let’s say I’m writing a cover letter for a job application. Or perhaps I’m sending in a query to a magazine for an article I’d like to write. And in the letter I misspell the person’s name… or the person I address it to has been gone from the company for years… or maybe I include data in my query that isn’t accurate or properly researched.

In these examples I have presented this as a legitimate sample of what a person could expect from me. And… look, to be a bit brief about it… spelling counts. If you make mistakes in the cover letter, you’re saying that your work will be sloppy, inaccurate, or just poorly produced. You’re saying that you don’t care and either expect others to turn their head or not care either. And, honestly, you’re saying this person, group or company is not worthy of your best efforts.

Like I said… spelling counts.

Now let’s step back into my proposal and the response.

All lowercase letters.

No punctuation.

Is this a shopping list? A reminder to feed the dogs?

No. It is a response to a formal inquiry on my part.

And that’s what I’m talking about.

Who was this person? Why had I triggered an ability to be so carefree and casual in responding to me?

Thing is… I know it wasn’t me. And it wasn’t anything I did.

We’ve tremendously advanced our ability to communicate over the past few decades. Forget wireless phones… we’ve come to affordable cell phones (insert your own joke here) that everyone has. Instant news is available on television, or can be accessed on the internet. Heck, we have real-time scoring for fantasy football on sites that can provide you with more information than actual broadcasts! It seems quite evident our abundance of wonders will never cease.

Just one thing.

As the ability to communicate has become faster, easier, and more powerful… it seems to me that we’ve all lost our ability to communicate.

When was the last time you called a major company on the phone and got a person on the other end of the line without having to press a minimum of four buttons to get to that person?

When was the last time you wrote a letter… Christmas cards don’t count… and mailed it to a friend?

On television we get material that is presented in a way not really to inform us on issues on events, but rather to earn higher ratings. Or do you think that 61-minute broadcast that rolls over into other shows is an accident?

In the state of Connecticut, we’ve reached a point where local dialing is now a 10-digit affair.

Ah yes… things are moving splendidly.

And… instead of possessing and cherishing interpersonal skills and contact… instead of encouraging conversation and accurate information or analysis… we’ve turned into a culture of junk e-mails asking us to order our drugs at the cheapest prices available and emoticons.

(I dare you. Open something so you can write. Type “:”… then type “)”… now hit the spacebar. Did it make that smiley face symbol? Ugh… I hate that. Fingernails on a blackboard don’t drive me nuts... but smiley face emoticons are my fingernails on a blackboard equivalent.)

Ever have someone flush in the middle of your phone call? I mean that literally. On the phone. Talking about whatever. A toilet flushes.

It was one thing when wireless phones for the home became common. You’d be talking to someone and there it was… usually during a long phone call… a flush.

That was sort of the equivalent of a shopping list moment. You could forgive it because of the person you were speaking to.

But now… god it seems like you can’t walk into a public restroom without at least one person having a cell phone to their ear. Are these calls really that important? They sure don’t sound like they are.

I think we have lost our ability to communicate… both verbally and in writing. What had been cute… replacing words with numbers or using some abbreviation that isn’t close to spelled properly… has spawned a commonplace set of examples and a mentality where I honestly don’t believe many people could properly use more than one of the following words: to… two… too.

But I have a solution.

First, we ban cell phones and wireless phones. We install rotary dials on every telephone, cords that stretch no longer than 6-feet, and limit every house to two phones.

And second, we prohibit e-mails from being sent out every day. From now on, they will only be sent on Tuesdays and Fridays. (Oh you can write them on any day. But the send – receive options will only work twice each week.)

Can you imagine kids having to make phone calls in the kitchen? Or wait a few days for a response to a letter?

How about companies that can’t ask you to push a button because all you can do is dial? (They might be forced to actually answer a call. I’m guessing I lost some of you with those kids on the phone in the kitchen. But admit it… companies answering when you call is a good one.)

I have to tell you… I understand the reasons against such actions as those I suggest, and maybe the true joy is found in nostalgia of the pain of a two-way uphill walk being inflicted upon those that have no understanding of the past rather than forcing the young to walk up that hill… but I’m liking the thoughts behind these ideas. I am willing to change my mind though, and let technology move along.

All I ask in return is that you stop using L-O-L.



If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com