Monday, November 14, 2011

Goodbye, Mr. Zip

A year or two ago I mentioned that every other student I passed on campus had a phone to their ear. Well, that's no longer true. Now it's EVERY student. If not to the ear, then in the hand, with the thumb skittering the keys. And in the library? Every computer terminal is occupied. Scholarly research? Not on your life. Facebook. Twitter. E-mail.

On line, all the time. The ether aquiver with blather. A tsunami of logorrhea.

That's what I called it in a Boston Globe column in 1995. I thought I had made up the word, a play on diarrhea. But no. The word had a long provenance by the time I acquired it.

What inspired my rant, way back then? My editor had asked me if I wanted my e-mail address appended to my column. Good lord, no, I said. I'll stick with P-mail. Snail mail. Mr. Zip.

There's such a thing as being too hip, too on-line, too immediately responsive, I wrote. Give me opinion that has been marinated, basted, cooked on simmer.

A contagion of twaddle is sweeping the nation, I fumed, in my finest curmudgeonly fashion. Television talk shows. Call-in radio. Electronic bulletin boards. A Chernobyl meltdown of civil discourse. A vast finger-down-the-throat regurgitation of content-less palaver. Yakkety-yak in binary bits.

That was 1995, remember, pre-Google, pre-Wiki. I predicted that within a decade we'd all be on line, in instant communication with everyone else in the world -- an information superhighway jammed to a standstill with bumper-to-bumper extemporaneous gab. The Internet can't have it both ways, I wrote; it can't be an effective tool for serious information interchange, and an infinite soapbox for personal chaff.

Well, I didn't know the half of it, or that I'd be adding my daily contribution to the rhea of words. And the internet, which we thought back then was about to crash under the weight of burgeoning bits and bytes, has been astonishingly resilient, stretching to accommodate both commerce, useful information, and the in-touch-all-the-time obsessions of the Facebook generation.