One of the first things we ask before buying a house, now, is whether it has FTTH, and what the cell phone reception is like. We live and breathe technology, and we believe we have shaped it to our needs.
But do we shape technology or does technology shape us? The telegraph changed forever the way people consumed information – probably because it changed how people sent information. Until then, messages took days, weeks, even months. The sender could be dead days before the message was read.
But it was in those days of slow communication that letter writing became an art. One’s penmanship spoke volumes about the kind of person you were, where you grew up and how much money your parents had. And grammar (did I just start a sentence with ‘And’?) was rigid. I guess it had to be. If you were going to wait three months for a reply, you’d better be sure you said exactly what you intended. So commas mattered.
But once the telegraph arrived, people could send messages across the world in mere hours. That was soooooo fast. And because we could communicate fast, speed became more important than style and accuracy. After all, you could always just correct any misinterpretation an hour or two later – hopefully before someone had annihilated the wrong village.
Before the telegraph, newspaper stories were works of art. The writer would set the scene, slowly introduce the main characters and carefully analyse the way the story developed. And then, in a final climactic paragraph, bring it all together. Very satisfying, but not if the editor was paying by the word, and the telegraph may go down halfway through the transmission. So that’s why the first paragraph had to have the where, when, who and what. How and why could follow. All the essential info was given upfront and each succeeding paragraph was of lesser importance. It was called an inverted pyramid, and it is still the style used by canny PROs because that way, if an editor decides to use a piece but needs to cut it, it’s easy – just prune it from the bottom.
And the telegraph also created some weird abbreviations that went out of use once we had faxes and other newfangled gadgets. But, with SMS and smartphones, it’s come back – but different.
btw cn u 18 t flg msg (‘By the way, can you understand the following message?’)
I wl cl mi yf immy wn u a
OMG. No. WTF? [Confused emoticon].
FYI it means ‘I will call my wife immediately when you arrive.’