Friday, June 20, 2008

Please Hit Reply

Please forgive the absence of the Burnett blobbers, we are both traveling in different time zones and are too old to keep track of the days. We'll try harder to be more regularly amusing. On with the show!

“But what about my perpetual tumor?” My mother was very concerned about something we did not quite understand. We were on our way to the eye doctor. “What are you talking about?” Both my brother Jeff, and I had no idea where she was going with this question. “The tumor in my brain. You know the tumor.” She used almost an accusatory tone. I wanted to say, “We haven’t been formally introduced to any tumor.” But I didn’t because she was clearly upset. “Do you mean the pituitary tumor?” Jeff asked.? “Yes, that’s the one.”

Mom has had a small pituitary tumor for 50 years. It is not something that needed attention for a long time and now it appears to have grown a little. There is nothing that we can do about given her age (88), and it is so slow growing that it will never impact on her health, however she only hears every one out of every ten words and the words she chose to hear were brain and tumor.

“It’s nothing to worry about.” Jeff tried to reassure her. “Sure”, she said absolutely not believing him. When we arrived at the doctor’s office we decided that we should tell the doctor that mom was a bit of an hysteric and no matter what he saw when he examined her eyes, he should absolutely not say anything about a tumor. He seemed to agree. So, imagine our surprise when he walked into the examination room and announced that despite the TUMOR, she seemed to be in fine condition. We looked at one another in shock. Surely he couldn’t be that stupid! Her reaction was predictable. She looked like one of those Looney Tunes cartoons where their eyes widen and roll around in the sockets, while their ears grow and there are exclamation marks in the air above their heads. It took us a long time to calm and convince her she was OK. We were not sure why he did this but it probably had something to do with those ridiculous privacy laws. What happened to the days when people did not have to have all the information.

Speaking of all the information, my niece is on her way from Bainbridge Island, in Washington State to Israel (The one in the Middle East). She and Jordan were supposed to have a conversation a few months ago so we could arrange for her to spend a few days with us in New York before she returns home. “Supposed to” is the key here. It is not going to happen because the girls never connected. Here’s what I don’t get. There are telephones, e-mail, computers, and face book. There a billion ways to communicate and yet they never talked.

They both said, “I tried calling her about fifteen times and she didn’t answer. I sent her a text, she didn’t reply. I left a message on face book but never got a response.”

This makes no sense to me because I seem to be able to reach both of them by picking up a land line and pressing a 10 buttons. Of course, as a consequence of caller id, they have to want to be reached. But let’s assume they do. They love one another and they love spending time together so what’s the reason for the lack of a connect? I watch Jordan talking to 12 people at a time when she’s on line. I truly don’t know how she keeps track, She obviously prefers to text or IM so if I text her I usually get a message back. (Usually is the operative phrase here.) And she is not alone. We have moved away from face to face communication, first to verbal communication (phones) and now visual communication (texting/web sites). All of the above does not bode well for the future of getting people to vote. It seems that convenience far outweighs personal contact. If they (this is the greater ‘they’) are online they might answer an e-mail. If they have their phones and are not distracted by something else, they might call you back. If they can vote absentee or it’s not raining, they might actually go to the polls. I hope I am not being to harsh but we saw this in 2004. Kids were motivated and registered in droves. But they just never made it back to vote in the general election. And the results - George Bush.

Back to the future. Last week I had a conversation with a college student who wants to major in journalism. When I said I thought the newspaper business and news in general was a dying business, she laughed. She doesn’t want to write for a newspaper or magazine-that’s yesterday’s journalism. She wants to get involved with new technologies like blogs, online broadcasting, writing news that can be accessed on an iphone and internet websites. “There are so many possibilities” she said. I reluctantly agreed. Not ‘reluctantly’ because I don’t like the look of the future, but I do mourn the loss of personal contact - the necessity for actually speaking to or seeing someone to discuss something. This kind of communication was not only effective, it was fun. When you worked for a candidate and had to talk to a gas station employee on one day, and the Chairman of the State Party the next, it tested your ability to be fluent on a variety of issues. It also tested your social skills. Could you be equally articulate and convincing about the same issue with people who might disagree with one another, or the candidate’s position. My fear is that with all the massive amount of controlled impersonal communication channels, and the shrinking access to the actual candidate, we might elect people who are terrific– if the news is overwhelming and remote, but they are serious duds in their ability to be leaders.

There is a fine line between the reality, convenience, and consequences, of today’s technologies. It would be great if candidates had to meet every voter in America-which hopefully would be more than 40% — then follow up with enormous amounts of additional stuff. To some degree that happens in primaries, and in debates. The one on one is healthy, likely to be more accurate and important. And it is equally important not to be distracted by unsubstantiated information we receive through a third party technology that is used to fill in the blanks. People will vote if they have a vested interest. If the vest becomes unbuttoned, they will simply stay home and not even bother to hit reply. We're Just Sayin...

3 comments:

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