This is a speech bubble from Supergirl & The Legion of Super-Heroes #17. Through a series of improbable events, Supergirl has traveled to the 31st Century and is in a bit of awe at how much things have changed. The above is part of a conversation explaining a bit of the culture. It’s a follow-up to a scene in issue 16 where a man is complaining about the Legion being so flagrant and he can’t get his neighbor to so much as look at him through an open front door, the neighbor instead continuing to address him on the visi-screen less than a foot away.
Aside from being a fun comic book moment, it’s an interesting thing to me because I’ve chatted with a few friends about the progression of communication. It seems that every new advance is more and more likely to keep us less interpersonally connected. Kids in schools have gone from secret codes and hand signals to passed notes and now text messages. As adults we maintained the notes and they evolved into letters and mail, but we discovered e-mail, texting and instant messages and it seems like those latter two rule the day. With one or two exceptions, I can’t recall the last time I got a phone call just to chat and generally when I call others I get the impression that I’m disturbing them. I know that a lot of people don’t care for talking on the phone and I accept that, but until we all develop telepathy, it’s a much better substitute for actual conversation than an online chat session.
The weird thing is the way some people use instant messaging. Looking at my list of contacts, I see people that have been idle for days or that sign on already in an away (or DND if using Jabber) state. Some stay invisible which a friend recently summed up as it’s ok for you to start a conversation with me, but not the other way around. When I get a message from someone that’s invisible, I always ask “Who ya hiding from?” But the best are people who are just always online with an available status yet who I never hear from. Some of them I used to chat with all the time, others I added to the contact list because they requested to add me and quite a few are there because they have multiple IDs and use services like meebo, Trillian or Adium and can have all of their “selves” online at once. So today is going to be a day for purging some of those contacts that I’ve never opened a window with or that I haven’t chatted with in weeks or months.
What makes me think of this is a chat with Michael last night where he mentioned Shutdown Day and I’ve heard about similar things in the past where you shut down the computer and/or other electronic devices for 24 hours. One irony of this is that we’re usually so “connected” that we make great use of those same devices leading up to the day to make sure that we have plans with others. Because I so rarely get phone calls, if I shut down, I wouldn’t hear from anyone unless it was maybe a text message or via twitter, which seems a bit like cheating. When I’ve gone offline for stretches of time that aren’t holidays, I’ll get a few IMs asking “Where were you?” and once or twice I’ve responded that there are other ways to get in touch with people aside from an instant message.
It makes me wonder whether face to face contact is already inconvenient and/or passé. Perhaps it’s that electronic communication is just so convenient and in some cases more efficient, but even though it’s more the norm these days, it still seems a very poor substitute for the real thing.