The Washington Post

Six great analog communication tricks

Lately I’ve been feeling ashamed and mortified by my digital incompetence, which I won’t belabor other than to say that I started to run into trouble around the time that MS-DOS came on the market. I’m still trying to memorize my Compuserve email address. I haven’t been fully comfortable with computers since Radio Shack stopped selling the TRS-80. Remember Commodore word processors? Now that was technology!

Or am I dating myself.

I can never remember my passwords — Thank God I’ve got the NSA as backup! Seriously, like many people I’m perturbed by the rise of the Surveillance State, but my major concern is that I haven’t done enough that’s worth surveilling. It’s a painful realization, knowing that you’re not very surveillable. You are a dull man when not even the NSA is paying attention.

True fact: I still have (happily) an AOL email address, but for years now this has been the subject of derision from the young and the technical. They look at me like I’m raising leeches for their usefulness in medical treatments. But then one day recently I had to give my email address to a young, supremely wired colleague, who is so digital he has already upgraded to quantum computing and mental telepathy and whatnot, and when I ritually noted my shameful AOL address he said, gently, “Oh, that’s coming back.” He said the Silicon Valley tech geniuses have started using AOL addresses — for their ironic quality. It’s like bell-bottom pants, or a pompadour. It’s like commuting to work on a penny-farthing. Or wearing a trucker hat as you dine on the patio at Le Diplomate.

Wait long enough, you’ll be back in fashion!

Whatever happens with technology, I’m not going to abandon my favorite analog communication techniques, which have worked beautifully for decades and don’t need any upgrading. They include:

1. Writing notes on napkins with a finger dipped in the water glass. When someone comments, “But you’ll never be able to read that later, when it dries,” you can say, “That’s the whole point.”

2. Interacting with other human beings primarily through winks, finger-snapping, thumbs-up gestures, salutes, raised fists, peace symbols and eyebrow-flaring. In my experience, the creative use of eyebrows as a communication tool can get you through an entire day without ever having to speak a word.

3. Nailing theses to church doors. (Keep Scotch tape on hand in case the door is metal.)

4. Writing in lipstick on mirrors (I prefer matte, but have been known, when feeling crazy, to use frosted or gloss).

5. Fulminating from atop a milk crate (but not too loudly — it can scare the cows).

6. Strategic unconsciousness. Nothing is quite so effective at saying “This meeting is boring” as nodding off dramatically and then failing to respond to colleagues’ strenuous efforts to wake you back up.

Your analog communication suggestions welcome!


Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."

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