Two weeks ago, disaster struck: my e-mail was down. Actually, it was corrupt, according to one of our IT experts. I'm not sure why or how this happened. All I know is that the only way to fix it, apparently, was to delete my account and set it up all over again. The same went for my voicemail. But even those drastic measures couldn't save me from a newsroomwide (maybe even companywide) e-mail failure the next day.
That afternoon, my editor asked me to help her edit some columns. "I'll email them!" she said. Oh. Right. Except that I had no e-mail. Plan B: send them to my personal account. No problem. But when my editor tried to open her own e-mail...it was down, too. In fact, e-mail was down throughout the entire newsroom.
We were stumped.
"Feel like going to a photo shoot instead?" my editor asked.
What did we ever do without e-mail? I know the Internet is still relatively new, but now that I'm used to it, I can't even fathom how life would function without it. We pay bills, shop, bank, chat, even date online. We depend on the Internet in more ways than we realize.
Case one: In the newsroom, I think we're all guilty of e-mailing each other even though, A) We work in a large, open room conducive to verbal communication, and B) each desk is only a few feet from the next. It's probably quicker and easier to walk — or speak — to the next cubicle, but we insist on opening our e-mail, typing a message, sending it, and waiting for a reply. It may take awhile to get that response. When it does come, what if we have additional comments or questions? Well, we go through the entire process again.
Even worse is that with e-mail, it's far too easy for people to delete messages, ignore them, pretend they never got them, and blame any other office miscommunications on a technology malfunction. The grown-up adaptation of "The dog ate my homework" has become "Gee, I know I sent that e-mail...it must not have gone through."
Case two: Two years ago, I took a college trip to Berlin, Germany. There were stores, castles, cafes and theaters galore. We spent hours walking the city streets, enjoying a cultural and historic immersion from every aspect. But somehow, we always found time to hit the Internet cafe for our e-mail and instant messaging fix. Why?
"My mom worries if she doesn't hear from me everyday."
"I miss my boyfriend."
"I need to check my final exam grades."
What were we thinking? How many opportunities do most people have to spend three weeks in an amazing world city, free of adult responsibilities and financial limitations? Answer: ONE, if any.
Case three: My parents live so far out in the country that the only Internet connection they can get is dial-up. It's ridiculously slow...but not slow enough to keep my sisters and me from getting online each time we're home. One sister, in particular, has no problem waiting hours to download games and music to her laptop. Of course, time passes quickly when she's also carrying on several instant message conversations...
No wonder there are problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, Internet addiction and nearsightedness. I wonder how the Internet affects our people skills, even those fleeting, day-to-day interactions? Why pay a visit when you can send an e-mail? Why go to the mall when you can shop online? I'm sure that face to face interactions are a vital part of human life, but they're also a skill that requires practice and effort.
I still enjoy those simple things like a long visit to Grandma's house and a shopping spree with my best friend. There's nothing like a handwritten, snail mail birthday card (complete with sparkly stickers and a $20 bill) or a lazy Saturday morning spent with the newspaper and a cup of coffee.
What do you think? Are we too dependent on technology for communication and, well...life?
P.S. — My 23rd birthday is coming up in exactly two weeks. I will gladly accept aforementioned snail mail birthday cards (festive stickers required).