Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Quest For Communication Part II: We Heard Already!

A Greek messenger runs through a Greek countryside with an important message. After a grueling twenty-six miles he finds the Athenian leaders and delivers his report: victory at Marathon! The Chief Athenian glances at his fax machine and says to the runner, “We heard already!”

This was a commercial on TV when I was a youth. It was my first clue that communications were speeding up. Now if we run long distances, it’s only for fun.

Twenty-six years ago, I hand wrote a letter to Morningside, put it in an envelope, addressed it, stamped it, and dropped it in a mail box. About a month later I began hearing from friends and family that Peter Gzowski had read my letter on the air. Gzowski always prefaced his listener letters with a brief review of what the show had been about. It had, after all, been several weeks since the topic had aired. That’s how long it would take letters to arrive at the Morningside offices and be processed.

These days on Q, we know immediately what Canadians think—that is, we know what speedy Canadians think. If I ever wanted to be Jian Ghomeshi’s “letter of the day,” I’d have to zip that missive off by email immediately. And Jian doesn’t bother reviewing the topic.

I was already vaguely aware of the concept of email when I heard Gzowski use the word on Morningside one day in the late 80s. He introduced a listener letter by saying that it had arrived by email (he emphasized the strange new word) from somewhere in Canada. He said the letter had been sent seven minutes ago.
      “That’s amazing!” I thought.
      “That’s amazing!” said Gzowski.
Things are even faster now. Radio announcers read tweets from listeners as they arrive.

Email slowly entered our house, but it took me awhile to adjust to its ramifications. Sometime in the late 90s, a friend and her daughter moved to Florida. The daughter was friends with my daughter. One day I mused aloud as to how they were doing. I didn’t expect an answer. It was a rhetorical muse . . . a whimsical reflection on life changes and distance. After all, there couldn’t be an answer. There had been no letter from them in our mailbox, and no phone call.
      “They found a nice house and a job,” answered my daughter.
She’d heard already!

I don’t have that Morningside letter anymore. There is no digital search feature on the planet that can call up a piece of paper from the past. But it was all about efficient new communications. I was a part-time receptionist at the time, and one of Gzowski’s guests had complained about newfangled office phones. I thought these phones were wonderful. They had lights and buttons and magical ways to send signals to the denizens of the Aviation Safety Board in their warren of corridors. I said as much in my letter. But now I can see that none of us—not me, not Gzowski, not his guest—had seen anything yet.

Back in the Greek countryside, the Chief Athenian glances at his BlackBerry and says to the fax machine, “We heard already!”