Connacht Tribune - Opinion Piece
Why texting should never replace the written wordJuly 25, 2012 - 7:55am
If the leaders of the 1916 Rising had email, would they ever have bothered to print up the Proclamation – or could they simply have set up a ‘Free Ireland’ Facebook page and urged people to ‘like’ it to a level that proved we wanted an end to British rule?
Would Pearse have written to his mother on his death bed in Kilmainham jail or simply sent her a surreptitious text message on a smuggled mobile phone – and if it all continued in a similar vein, where would we go now to read a slice of our own evolving story?
Letters and the written word have played such an important part in history – ours and the world’s – but what will we leave for historians of the future to work on by way of contemporaneous evidence from great events?
Those days spent combing the National Archives for words written by those history-makers themselves will give way to the soulless thoughts of a text message; no need for white gloves or careful handling when it’s just a download from a website in cyberspace.
Of course it makes it all the more accessible but is that really the point? Even now and in a more personal context, wouldn’t you prefer a handwritten note or letter to a mere text or email? Aren’t words from a pen more interesting that those typed with one thumb?
What about those postcards that people used to send from their holidays, with idyllic scenes from Spain or Cyprus that might have carried a message of no consequence greater than ‘kids have vomiting bug – wish you were here’?
Years on those postcards were still stuck on the fridge or a cork board as though you’d been there yourself, and they conjured up images of far flung places as you passed by on a wet winter’s day.
Now all you get is a text message, with perhaps a picture of your friends giving a big thumbs up during their dinner – a picture you don’t even bother to download, let along go to the bother of keeping for posterity.
The other problem with texts is that, while postcards are delivered by a postman at some stage during the day, a text message has a habit of hanging out in some cyber cloud until it knows you’re fast asleep and – making no allowances for time differences – it shocks you from your slumber at four in the morning to tell you how someone else is enjoying their holiday.
And then what about love letters, those embarrassing epistles of youth that poured forth with a form of poetry that mightn’t make it onto the Leaving Cert syllabus but which bared many a young soul at a turning point in their lives?
Can you imagine the lovebirds of today printing out their text messages and binding them together with a bit of twine so that their grandchildren might find them and discover a different side to old Granny in eighty years’ time?
There have been legendary writers of love letters too – like Napoleon, whose early passions for his new bride Josephine were mostly confined to print because the Little General was whisked off to war just days after their marriage, when he was ordered to leave and command the French army near Italy.
Indeed the problem here was that Josephine rarely wrote back, and he began to hear rumours that she was being unfaithful to him. Perhaps she was texting him and he was just out of coverage in the trenches or on the field of battle.
As it turned out, Napoleon’s letters became more intimate and loving, but quickly turned sour when it was confirmed that she was having an affair – giving historians more of an insight into Monsieur Bonaparte than they might otherwise have hoped for.
For all of the advances in technology – and most of them are to be cherished – we still rely on the printed or written word as the first draft of history. But this isn’t just about the past.
For more, read this week's Connacht Tribune.