Today I reminisced about the pencil sharpener, and I do not mean the electric-motorized fancy kind; I mean the shiny metal, slow-grinding, dust-spouting kind. It is a tool that has only just reached the point of obsolescence that warrants reminiscence. For something to reach this golden place in my mind, the object must be familiar enough that I warmly recall romanticized interactions with said object, yet foreign enough that I cannot bluntly draw to mind that once-proverbial brand name etched on its head (I think it began with a ‘B’).
But why should the pencil sharpener lose its legitimacy?? The reliable school supply that was forever screwed to the jagged two-by-four on the wall in the lunch-cubby corner, provided me with a beautifully legitimate excuse to interrupt the Teacheress with rattling crunches. The point IS (pun intended) that the pencil sharpener never started doing its job less-well; its engine never died out, its grinders never dulled, and it certainly never became less-fun to crank. Nay, the singular fault of the poor pencil-sharpener was that it got caught in the crossfire of the immediacy revolution. Trekking to the pencil sharpener to narrow one’s tip became a silly pastime to the one-click mechanical pencil. But to be fair, whittling graphite became a silly pastime to the metal grinder, and scribing in blood became a silly pastime to whittling graphite.
Obsolescence formerly arose out of discovering a more convenient way to accomplish a task. However, over the aforementioned revolution, convenience became immediacy. Remember when you used to have to wait a whole hour until you found an empty computer to check Facebook (inconvenience)? No longer! The notifications shoot straight to your pocket (immediacy).
Whether or not you feel these exponential advances in the name of immediacy are beneficial is an oft-debated phenomenon, and can be further explored by the incessant arguments I have with my lovely cousin Nick. Nick is smarter than your garden-variety computer nerd, with a $19K+ classic video game collection, a severe case of ADD, and no tolerance whatsoever for waiting for anything, ever. I have often attributed his Attention Deficit Disorder to his above-average use of technology. Granted, Nick is a computer genius, and as such feels that the quicker we can accomplish a task, the better. However, perhaps our ever-lasting debate over whether or not the speed at which we can acquire information, or well…do anything, is a progression or regression can be explained by factors other than the obvious cultural mores (i.e. upbringing, geographical location, social class, age, etc.). Perhaps there is a more methodological and thus comprehendible explanation.
You see, there exists an inherent dissonance in our understanding of immediacy regarding media.
When I finally decided to research this topic, it did not take me too long to realize that the two words are eerily similar etymologically. Funny enough, if we look at the etymological origins of both the words ‘media’ and ‘immediate,’ we will find that they are intrinsically opposite. ‘Immediate’ is a state of being [ate], without [im], a middle man/section, or in this case, lapse of time [medi]. ‘Medium,’ of course, means between, middle, or halfway. In fact, the first appearance of the word ‘media,’ as defined by this essay, in any documentation in the English language was in January 1850 in the Biblical Repertory: “Our periodicals are now the media of influence. They form and mould the community.” In 1850, it was newspapers that became the new medium through which to communicate, in that its ability to disseminate information was more immediate than the former mode of media communication, which were consequently books.
To complicate matters a bit more, if we view ‘media’ and ‘immediacy’ individually, we will find that from each emerges a conceptual conundrum, similar to the way in which they anti-relate to each other. “Medium” has two contradictory characteristics in that it both connects and separates. Its connectedness is to understand “media agents of time-space bridging” in activities such as phone-calling, Skyping, etc., which bring “distant events into people’s localities” (Tomlinson 96). However, the technical coding and formats needed for this communication alienate an unsuspecting consumer. “Electronic media tend to hide their mediation. Far from advertising it, they obscure the artifice of their practice and present their product or medium…as pristine, untouched, and immediate” (99).
In order to approach the topic of immediacy in its natural, contradictory state, we must understand its driving component: speed. There are two fundamentally oppositional meanings and manifestations of speed. Speed offers both “pleasures and pains, exhilarations and stresses, emancipation and domination.” On the one hand, there are a significant number of terms which the English language hath bred reflecting societal disapproval of speed. A “fast talker” tends to be deceitful; a “quick fix” connotes shoddiness; a “quickie” is done in private disgrace. Likewise, there is a wealth of positively-connoted associations with speed. “Quick-witted” and “quick on the uptake” both imply being cleverly alert; “Godspeed” connotes well-intended wishes of precision and prosperity; “living life in the fast lane” means career success (Tomlinson3-4). While the two coexist in contradictory ways, it is clear that humans today live in a culture of speed.
What grows out of the general acceleration of practices, processes, and experience associated with speed as it relates to technology is telemediatization (Tomlinson 10). Telemediatization, a term so young that it does not employ a Wikipedia entry, is the “increasing implication of electronic communications and media systems in the constitution of everyday experience” (Tomlinson 94). In layman’s terms, this quote more eloquently expands upon the transparency with which media exists in our life-sphere, due to the increasing immediacy with which we need consume it. Telemediated activities – texting, web-surfing, sending/receiving picture/video messages via cell phone, instantaneous Googling during daily routine –“occupy a space in the everyday flow of experience within the individuals’ world that is distinct, yet integrated with face-to-face interactions of physical proximity” (Tomlinson 94).
It is this curious juxtaposition of the familiar, the taken-for-granted, the trivial, with the capacity to radically alter the terms of human intercourse that attempts to quantify telemediatization. Since it has such a huge potential for study, we must stay focused. In what way are telemediated activities contradictory? The answer can be found in the necessity yet dispensability of technology (Tomlinson 97).
A common party question that somehow seems to surface at many large-group events is: “What every day object can you absolutely not live without?” In my experience, the overwhelming answer to this question as-of-late has been one’s cell phone. We have attached fundamental needs to this object: needs to communicate, needs to research, needs to organize, needs to function. Personally, my cell phone is within grasping distance during at least 90% of my day. At my worst, the cell phone entered a Zip-lock bag and accompanied me in the shower (to be fair, this only happened once during a bad fight via ‘textversation’). Media truly are ‘extensions of man’ (96).
Currently, AT&T is promoting its “Talk & Surf” plan. The following is an excerpt from their website describing the feature:
The ability to talk and surf at the same time on your smartphone is one of the AT&T mobile broadband network’s key advantages. If you have it, you probably use it all the time. You may not even think about it. Let’s say: Your mother-in-law is 35 minutes into her detailed account of her recent Vegas trip. With simultaneous talk and surf, you’re updating Facebook, checking stock prices, and keeping tabs on the game as the conversation wears on.
And with that cute little definition of the plan, AT&T has perfectly illustrated the manner in which telemediatization is infringing upon the way we formerly handled social incidences. I personally feel this is, in fact, the way we more oft-than-not treat our grandmothers today, but I do not feel that it is necessarily progressive. In fact, I think it is rude (Me-1, Nick-0).
And yet, contrary to this cultivated popular ‘need,’ the phone is designed to be dispensable. Phone plans come with two-year contracts, at which time you are monetarily and socially encouraged to ditch the object to which you have become so closely attached, and buy a new one. ‘Buy’ is a stretch, since service-providers offer some of the newer models for $0.01. Technology works in such a way that anything you buy ‘new’ will become obsolete within approximately two months. Only media could cultivate such a need, yet undeniable distance and lack of emotional tie to an inanimate object.
Branching away from cell phones, we can also view progressing yet contradictory immediacy in our consumption of the television medium. In the interest of focus, I will cite a singular memory experiment published in “Psychology Press” to prove my point. The study explores whether “the immediacy of viewing images of a momentous news event affects the quality and stability of memories.” Obviously, because of advances in technology, the broadcasting of major news events is aired with less and less delay. Very often, we now learn of the event at the same time, or very shortly after it has occurred. However, this general exposure to media images can either “improve retention of a news story, or can distort memory of the news”. Consequently, in the major experiment that compared “the flashbulb accounts of 38 participants concerning the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack” proved that “delayed viewing of images resulted in less elaborate and generally less consistent accounts” of the event six months later (Schafer 1). In these broader psychological implications, it is clear that in the case of the news, immediacy correlates with recallability and accuracy (Me-1, Nick-1).
I would be remiss if I did not mention social media in this paper about inherent contradictions in immediacy and telemediatization. In the field of social-networking, perhaps, is the clearest contradiction of all. Within each of our life-spheres of immediate and unconditional communication, unhindered by the limits of time or distance, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. Many of our webs of connections are growing broader but shallower: “we are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible” (Marche 2). We exist within “an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.” Facebook interferes with our real friendships, and even our real familial relationships. “We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and easy” (Marche 3). This broader statement is not just an arbitrary generalization, but is reflected in real data, where one survey found that “in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. [However,] by 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant” (3). Sorry, Nick, I’d rather be happy and friendship-plentiful in 1985, than friendship-emaciated and lonely albeit “connected” in 2012 (Me-2, Nick-1).
Regardless, loneliness is certainly not something that Facebook or Twitter or any major form of social networking is doing to us. We are doing it to ourselves. These omnipresent new technologies — these telemediated behaviors — lure us toward “increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment that they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy” (Marche 8). They help showcase our social laziness, while simultaneously providing us with the tools for avoidance and lack of effort. The power of Facebook lies within its ability that “enables us to be social while sparing us the embarrassing reality of society” (8). And, in this case, social media is not at fault for our loneliness, but rather accentuates (and makes convenient) the flaws that were always inherent in human nature (Me-2, Nick-2).
Neither of us will ever win the debate. What is interesting, however, is that arguing with Nick or one of my tech-savvy peers is not the same thing as arguing with my Grandmother, who clearly reminisces about a simpler, slower-pace life-sphere. We disagree on the grounds of experience and age, which is the more obvious explanation for two individuals’ lack of agreement upon the implications of our co-existence with media. As further evidence in proving my Grandmother right: even in so choosing this particular topic upon which to write a 10-page research paper, I became childishly impatient and irate at the fact that one source was not listed online, and even worse not in my university library, which would inevitably mean resorting to the WORST CASE SCENARIO for any first-world liberal-arts college researcher…INTER-LIBRARY LOAN.
Clearly, telemediatization has been a godsend for me as a student, as a writer, and as a regular-Tuesday-night-trivia-at-the-bar-competitor. However, it has changed my wiring as a thinker in all three of these roles of my life; as the nostalgic pencil-sharpener might do to an unsuspecting dulled #2 tip, telemediatization is grinding away, with rattling crunches, my capacity for concentration and consideration. This particular aspect negatively affects me in my social, academic, and intellectual lives. However, just as with the printing press, the telegraph, and the camera, “the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that” these world-altering technologies would deliver (Carr 7). In this sense, Nick and I will always disagree, and neither will be more correct than the other. If, like me, you find yourself constantly battling the immediacy revolution, perhaps thinking in terms of “inherent dichotomy” rather than in terms of “right or wrong” can quell your disagreements, and maybe even your depressing feelings of inevitable unresolvability.
Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, August 2008. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/.
“Immediate.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. http://ezproxy.arcadia.edu:2889/view/Entry/91838?result=1&rskey=6ug2YF&.
Marche, Stephen. “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” The Atlantic, May 2012. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/.
“Medium.” Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, n.d. http://ezproxy.arcadia.edu:2889/view/Entry/115772?redirectedFrom=medium&.
Talk & Surf at the Same Time, n.d. http://www.att.com/Common/about_us/files/pdf/talk_surf_fact_sheet.pdf.
Tomlinson, John. The Culture of Speed: The Coming of Immediacy. SAGE, 2007.