Observations Out Of Advancing Fogeydom
A couple of quick, unrelated comments about technology and communications media from a baby boomer's perspective:
(1) Last weekend I heard an NPR interview with Roger Angell, baseball writer and fiction editor of The New Yorker. He was talking about a newly-published collection of letters by his stepfather, E.B. White. At one point, the interviewer asked Angell about the effect of email on the art of correspondence. Angell replied that email had basically destroyed the custom of letter-writing, and he spoke for a minute or two about how friends and family members used to keep in touch with one another via snail mail.
Sorry, but I think Angell has this all wrong. I was born in 1953 (33 years after Roger Angell), and there was never in my lifetime a period when average people kept in touch by writing letters. People picked up the phone and called one another. The one possible exception, when I was very young, would have been when someone was very far away--on another continent, for example--in which case long-distance phone charges might have been prohibitive. But by the 1960s, people were using long-distance telephone routinely. By that time, the letter as a medium of daily intercourse was pretty much dead, though it was regularly mourned in print and over the airwaves by etiquette experts and other defenders of the old-fashioned.
Angell is, I'm sure, sincere in his nostalgia for the "old days" when people wrote letters, but I think he's recalling the 1940s--definitely not the 1980s.
If anything, email has revived the custom of letter-writing. I certainly communicate by writing much more than ever now that I have the option of dashing off an email to someone. And I love it, since (truth be told) I pretty much hate talking on the telephone.
(2) Flipping around the TV channels the other night in the usual futile search for something to watch, I realized how incredibly rare it has become for Mary-Jo and me to watch anything on one of the major TV networks. We like good sitcoms--at various points in our lives we were faithful viewers of M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cheers, and Frasier--but the only network sitcom we still watch with any regularity is 2 1/2 Men on CBS (which I would place on the third rung of sitcom greatness, about on a par with shows like Family Ties and way below the true classics of the genre).
Other than that, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything we watch on the networks. We sometimes catch part of 60 Minutes or a little of The Today Show while getting dressed in the morning, and if I can't get to sleep at night I might tune in Letterman. But otherwise, everything we watch is on cable or PBS. Surprisingly enough, I'd guess that we tune in to specialized outlets like the Cooking Network and the Travel Channel quite a bit more often than CBS, NBC, or ABC.
For someone who grew up in the heyday of network TV, this is an amazing change that has crept up on me--a little like discovering that, without fully realizing it, I gradually stopped looking at The New York Times and now devote all my reading time to The Daily Racing Form and Popular Mechanics.
Tags: Roger Angell, letter writing, email, network television, cable TV, sitcoms