Obtaining a phone number once required leaping over a series of hurdles. A person had to meet you, ask you for it and you could always give them an erroneous string of digits that turned out to be a pizza place.
These days, there’s no barrier to entry. Want to communicate with someone? All you need is a name and a face. Sometimes not even that, if you have enough mutual friends.
I understand that phone numbers, as a concept, are fast fading. You call people not by number but by address book name. Why not eliminate the middle man?
But in the process, the art of tactfully avoiding people is dying. Perhaps I overvalue unreachability — I am, after all, of Scandinavian extraction. But it’s still a shame.
The new Facebook Messenger app terrifies me. “Only send messages to people willing to give you their phone numbers?” it asks. “Seems quaint. Try this instead! It’s free!”
Do you realize what all this social media is doing?
It is making it impossible to avoid anyone.
True, it makes for fewer improbable, Romeo and Juliet-style tragedies of miscommunication. Drink poison? Nonsense. Juliet texted you the whole plan hours ago.
But for every faithful Romeo spared the final curtain by technology, there are a dozen Florizels trying to dodge a social engagement with a persistent Perdita. “Oh, I’m so sorry, I really thought you said you had died, so I left the country,” they say.
“But I can see that you just checked in on FourSquare to the Starbucks across the street from my house,” Perdita texts back.
Lose touch with people? Why would you want to?
People no longer fade out of your lives. You have to block them.
Now Facebook Messenger, which lets you send messages as SMS texts to all your Facebook contacts for free, is the top free app in Apple’s App Store.
“How did you get this number?” is one thing.
“How did you hear what my name was?” is another.
You might have the wrong number. What you definitely don’t have is the wrong name and face. It’s impossible to explain your presence away. And death, loss and taxes are entirely avoidable compared to someone who has your Facebook information and Really Wants to Get Lunch.
The formerly reliable Gmail is turning into a social network, too. Soon, no doubt, it’ll have its own messenger app.
It’ll only be a matter of time before we’re all reachable all the time. There was once a time when you could leave and go somewhere and have your calls held. No longer. We can’t hold anything. Our hands are full of smartphones.
So much for vacations. So much for sitting and thinking. If Rodin carved his masterwork today, it’d probably be bent over an Android, texting.
Soon there will be universal WiFi across the United States, and there will be a great heaving sound and all art and effort that requires concentrated thought will abruptly cease. There will be a waiting list years long to stand on the one spot on Earth with spotty WiFi reception, where your bosses and friends and boon companions can’t get in touch with you and you can be alone with your last surviving thought. But the line will be so long that you’ll only get to be there for 5 minutes.
In the meantime, you Just Have To Be On Facebook — or Google+ — or some network just to send e-mail and communicate and consider yourself a part of civilization. Nobody sends really important letters any more. “This is so important that I must tell you at once!” used to mean “At any rate by the next business day!” Now it means “Within seconds!”
So Facebook Messenger terrifies me. Facebook is a long slimy trail of acquaintances and friends and everything in between, spanning longer and longer portions of our lives. We once thought it a terrible thing to lose track of people we had met. But the alternative, it turns out, is just as bad. Sure, in a few cases, our lives grow sad for having lost touch with someone and resemble Nicholas Sparks novels more than they ordinarily might have. But for every one of those, there are eight insistent messages from Carla in Accounting, wanting to know why we haven’t gotten brunch yet.
“I didn’t get your message,” we say.
“But you did, I understand how the technology involved works.”
Gear up for a new age of misanthropy. Interact with everyone all the time? We may find we do not like ’em.
So perhaps we shouldn’t be so upset that Anon is planning to hack Facebook on Nov. 5, in honor of Guy Fawkes Day. It may be our only hope of a reprieve.