postSaturday, 30 June 2007

Get the Message

Ever wonder what would happen if you SMS’ed too much. Neither did we but here’s a story about it anyway.

Since the beginning of time man has been trying to find new and convenient means to communicate across great distances. The first attempts consisted of relaying information verbally via point to point through the groundbreaking concept of the messenger. An expertly trained individual with a steel-trap memory who would travel great distances, accompanied by a delightful puffy hat (at least in my mind), to perform his service.

Then one day some drunk invented the symbol. Soon these symbols were combined to create writing. This set in motion a never-ending war that continues to this day between symbolic and verbal communication. Soon the messenger’s steel-trap memory was replaced by a new invention known only as the letter (the French invented a very different version of this). Fortunately the messengers were able to keep their jobs, travelling great distances to deliver letters and cavort with foreign women (which is probably why the French invented their version of the letter).

Then came the telegraph, another blow to verbal communication and this time the messenger (who sadly would never recover). Suddenly symbolic communication could be transported great distances far quicker then it could by messenger, as telegraphs seldom stop to cavort with foreign women.

It seemed verbal communication would never return to its former glory but this view was quickly dismissed when a Scottish guy (so yes another drunk) levelled the playing fields with the invention of the telephone. Soon verbal communication quickly reclaimed its place as the dominant form because telegraph sex just isn’t hot.

For most of the 20th century the telephone dominated communication but towards the end SMS (Short Message Service) came out of the shadows. SMS was originally thought to be so pointless that the American cellular industry decided to make it a free service. Today it is the most widely used cell phone feature (at least in this country).

As everyone does when a cultural phenomenon arises I decided to sit down and ask that very important question: “How does this affect us socially?”

The Reign of the Question Talker:

What is more irritating than a question talker? Quite simply nothing is more irritating than a question talker. Possibly the most annoying habit anyone can pick up is question talking, the process of posing a question and than instantly answering it. Being around these people constantly brings up hot flushes and memories of really irritating teachers.

What do question talkers have to do with SMSing? A lot. SMSing becomes an addiction. Addicts lie still clenching their phone in hand waiting for those crave ending beeps to materialize out of thin air. To ensure a constant stream of SMS’s addicts type vigorously and provide at least one question in each SMS to increase the chance of replies.

The constant use of questions is bound to internalise itself in your mind and effect your interaction with people in real life. Soon this phenomenon will expand into all spheres; questions will become the primary form of communication. When there are only questions the question mark becomes redundant and life as we know it will be changed forever.

Roxanne Syndrome:

For those of you who have not seen the Steve Martin movie Roxanne based on the play, Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand, it is a story about two men who fall for the same woman. The older of the two does not believe he has a chance, due to his ridiculously large nose, and decides to help out the younger one by writing romantic letters and poems for him. Naturally, the woman falls in love via these exchanges with one small problem: the man she thinks she is in love with is not that man at all.

Back in the day standard dating protocol was to meet someone, get a number and give them a call. These days it is generally the same but the call has been replaced by an SMS. People begin their relationships with long SMS courtships. Obviously there is no way of knowing who you are actually communicating with, I can’t count the number of times a friend has passed me his phone and said, ”Say something that will get me laid.” All over the country people are falling for someone who is not the person they think they are falling for, in other words, Roxanne Syndrome.

The Cram Effect:

A SMS has a 160-character limit and this results in one of two things. Either a message is crammed full of useless information to make the most of the character count or a long message is trimmed down to make it fit into the character count.

As people become conditioned (al la Pavlov’s dog) to respond in short 160 character statements they will take it over to their social interaction. Conversation will become pointless as no one will have anything meaningful to say. Martians will invade, force us to learn their language, breed with our women and in time our differences will be forgotten (stolen Family Guy Joke).

The SMS Break-up:

Break-ups are always awkward and let’s be honest hardly anyone enjoys breaking up with someone. There have always been those cowardly few who refuse to bite the bullet and do it face to face by finding other means; before the telephone their was that awkward moment when you would hand someone the note. Then there was the awkward silence when you broke the news telephonically. Now you can simply combine the two with a single SMS and a verification report ensures you that they have received the news.

You are probably thinking what could be lower than an SMS break-up. Well there is one thing: the Internet SMS break-up. What a slap in the face , to let someone know the relationship was not even worth the 80c of a regular SMS. Harsh.

Increased Anxiety:

Sometimes we send messages that we want or need replies to, with a phone call a response is instantaneous (and an unanswered phone generally means the person is unavailable) but with SMS there are so many possibilities: They might not have their phone on them; they are avoiding you; they forgot to reply; they are out of airtime. While you are waiting for a reply, which may never come, many of these thoughts (and hundreds of other scenarios) will be running through your head and with this increased anxiety. This is bound to cause high blood pressure in years to come and result in lower human life expectancies.

Note: This story was originally published in Excess Magazine.

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