100 Things We’ve Lost to the Internet by Pamela Paul is a curious book of short chapters dealing with all the concrete and intangible things humankind has supposedly lost in the last twenty, or even in the last ten, years. I call this book “curious” because in spite of Paul’s sentimental mourning over the loss of photo albums and family gatherings around the dinner table where every member is not nose-deep into his cellphone, it seems to me that she could have many of these things back if she only put her damn phone away. Being tethered to her smartphone is not a justifiable reason to sound the death knell of Scrabble tiles, penmanship and proper spelling. She misses handwritten letters, birthday cards and maps, as well as honorable human behaviours such as patience, civility and asking politely. I can only wonder if Paul continues to write letters or send birthday cards herself. If she misses them so much, she has the power to do something about it. I got the feeling that she was feigning a counterfeit sense of regret, and, if she was given a pen and a fancy piece of stationery, as well as a free postage stamp, she couldn’t be bothered to compose a letter to someone. Birthday cards are another matter, as I believe Paul still prefers to send the real thing:
“Now, birthday greetings may instead arrive in the form of emails, posts, texts, and, perhaps worst of all, e-cards, which either slip into spam where they belong or land in unison on the morning of the big day because they are automated. However they get there, nobody wants them. Really, nobody. Ready-made and free for anyone who signs up and signs away their data (and yours!), the e-card says nobody could be bothered making or buying a card of their own. There is nothing fun about the e-card, which forces you to click through several slow-to-load screens before you arrive at anything resembling a personal message. It leaves no recipient feeling seen or tended to. It feels crappy on your birthday, indifferent on Valentine’s Day, brutal on Mother’s Day.”
The author also wrote chapters on experiences or professions that the Internet has eliminated, such as window shopping, blind dates, eye contact, and receptionists. No one goes on a true blind date anymore, not when one can check out the other’s presence on social media. Everyone’s attention is focussed on his smartphone or laptop and no one looks at you when speaking. I mourn eye contact too.
Yet ownership of a smartphone now obligates one into doing all kinds of activities and never leaves one with the option to opt out. For example, Paul can never claim to have missed a call, not when her cellphone will take a message for her. She will never again feel the panic of being lost, not when her GPS and Google Maps can point her in the right direction (and not feeling lost is a good thing). And she never has to memorize anyone’s phone number–or memorize anything, for that matter–not when her phone has all her numbers stored in a personal contact list. Take it from journalist Euna Lee, who was imprisoned in North Korea, and commit all of your most important phone numbers to memory. You might need to call someone if somehow you weren’t attached to your phone.
While I do use the Internet every day, I do not own a cellphone, so my perspective is not from someone with a hunched back and sore neck, so when you call me (and if I answer) I am at home. I approached this book thus from a different perspective as my attention span (number 63 on her list) is not lost and is still sharp, thank-you very much.