June 27, 2009

the incredibleness of sms

I think I never realized how SMS really is impacting the world and has transformed how we communicate until I listened to this story a while back on NPR: Mobile Phones Do Much More Than Make Calls

In the phone calls that ensued on the show, people called in about living in a mud hut in Africa, but using a solar charger to keep her connected through cell phone with her daughter 100 miles away in the city. Or fishing off the coast of India and texting to the buyers on shore what the catch of the day was so that nothing went to waste.

I don't think I realized how different SMS was than regular phone calls until last week when we literally had no coverage because the network was jammed with people stuck on the interstate due to flash flooding, but I could update my facebook status from SMS and people were sending back comments instantly.

There is something about the instantaneous nature of communication that is both really exciting and really troubling. Some of the comments had to do with how health workers were able to finally sync their data and know when outbreaks were occuring and then respond. But then others spoke about how dangerous it was to have locating technologies built into these same devices that made them increasingly vulnerable.

It is an amazing tool that connects us to one another, and yet 140 characters is also especially limiting. It has literally changed the way that we write and speak and SPELL! I am constantly amazed at how "what" is now spelled "wut" in my youth group's correspondance to each other on facebook or even on papers they turn in to me. I wonder what kinds of hair-pulling frustration their English teachers are having.

There is also an expectation of always being connected - of having instantaneous response. If you send an email or a text message - you often hope the person is right there, ready to respond to get you the information you need. But at least mediums like twitter and facebook (and their SMS applications) have the benefit of responses from multiple directions. As an example - a pastor friend I know who was working on writing a funeral sermon for a tragic death of a young couple in a car accident connected quickly with colleagues to get some really helpful advice. Not everyone needed to respond instantly, but enough did.

But language changes, people adapt, and at the age of 27, I feel almost as if I'm on the brink of being an old-fogie. While I love my cell phone, I'm only just now figuring out how to take it with me everywhere. I'm quickly trying to figure out twitter, I'm staying connected with facebook, I'm building relationships through new medias, so I'm hoping that I have the skills I need to be an adapter and not someone who just grumbles at the changes happening. The key is to figure out what really is valuable about these new technologies (or in the case of SMS - new uses of technology) and still be able to critique the faults of the medium.

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