Face 2 Face

By Barry Gottlied

One of the sad things about technology is that it always sinks to the lowest common denominator. Like poets, mimes, and failed presidential candidates, it starts with lofty intentions but before you can say “You’ve been Punk’d” it’s wallowing in the gutter. Take television. In the beginning it was radio with pictures. Literally. They stuck a camera in front of entertainers doing their radio shows, meaning that instead of just listening to the program, people could now sit at home and comment about how no one looked the way they sounded. It took a while for people to start figuring out that television was a completely different medium and that they needed to make good use of this new technology by being innovative and creative, which led to shows such as The Simple Life, The Littlest Groom, and Family Affair, a program which was so innovative it had to be made a second time. See what I mean about gutters?

The same thing happened with the Internet. When it started out it was simply text on a screen because, well, that’s all it was capable of displaying. Then the World Wide Web was invented and suddenly people could use graphics, create animations, and put cameras inside refrigerators so people with more time than ambition could watch mold growing on salsa left over from last year’s Super Bowl. Then business discovered the technology, taking the innovative step of turning it into printed brochures viewed on a monitor. Now we’ve progressed to the point where we can read the newspaper, listen to music, order merchandise, and watch videos on the computer. Same junk, expensive new high-tech delivery system.

That’s why it’s nice to hear that there are people who are working to use the Internet in more innovative ways. Take the enterprising youths in Garland, TX who recently used the Internet to set up a gang fight. It began when they traded insults in a chat room, proving that not everyone is there to flirt with 65-year-old men masquerading as 16-year-old virgins named Briana. When they got bored with typing the same three curse words over and over without the benefit of a spellchecker, they decided to fight. They set the time and place online, almost calling it off when they realized they had to log off in order to go fight in person. Had they been truly innovative they would have had a virtual fight online at No one would have been hurt, 27 students wouldn’t have to go through the rest of their lives with a police record hanging over their heads, and best of all, they’d be helping their hand-eye coordination.

Meanwhile in England it turns out a lot of people are using modern technology to perform tasks that are as old as mankind itself. You know, things like sending love letters, breaking up with a loved one, and quitting a job. Originally done face to face—or face2face if you want to get modern about it— these tasks became more virtual with the advent of paper, pencils, and BIC pens. As technology moved forward people became even less personal, breaking up by telephone, fax, and voicemail. Trust me, nothing says a relationship’s over like getting a fax informing you that your erstwhile significant other has changed their phone number, the clothes you left in the closet are sitting on the sidewalk so you’d better hurry if you don’t want to walk down the street and see a homeless person wearing your favorite shirt, and by the way, there’s a restraining order taped to your toothbrush.

But this being the New Millennium, anyone knows that faxes and voicemail are oh-so-’90s. That’s why people have turned to telephone text messaging. A recent survey in England found that 31 percent of adults have used text messaging to send a love letter, nine percent have used it to break off a relationship, and two percent have actually quit their jobs that way. It’s a shame text messaging isn’t more widely available in the rural U.S. or those Texas gangs could have used it, leaving the chat rooms to people who think they have better uses for it.

Luckily there are still some things that are sacred. You know, things that just don’t lend themselves to text messaging. Like divorce. For that you still need to go online. That’s right, you can now go online and file for divorce at sites like and And why not? If you can meet, fall in love, and break-up online, why not complete the cycle and divorce that way too? Just don’t forget to retain joint custody of the family Web site.

Eventually someone will figure out uses for the Internet and text messaging that are completely revolutionary, but until then they’ll remain virtual televisions, newspapers, telephones, and graffiti-covered walls. But you don’t have to sit around and wait for that day. In the meantime you can go online and listen to the radio. Without pictures. Now that’s progress.