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Persky on Technology

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I can't think of a better way to start a new week than with a good laugh.

Permit me to share a wonderful piece by legendary writer-producer-director Bill Persky on modern technology. It appears in the today's edition of USA Today.

We're Killing Communication

At 78 years old, I can authoritatively say that 'talking' isn't what it used to be

By Bill Persky

What I really wanted for my 78th birthday was a pair of pajamas, but because they're not digital, I didn't stand a chance. Instead, I was deluged with an arsenal of high-tech "communications breakthrough" gadgets: an iPhone (which I quickly renamed a "not-for-me phone"); a Kindle electronic book (which doesn't feel, smell or look like a book); and a GPS navigation device (featuring the voice of some irritating woman whom I would never allow in my car, let alone tell me how to get where I'm going).

I returned the gifts and went to Bloomingdale's to buy my pajamas. Yet what should have been a simple, two-minute transaction was interrupted as my saleslady responded to three text messages and a phone call.

I'm not losing my patience but my sanity. With the wisdom I have gained from age and experience, I have finally decided it's time for all these communications breakthroughs to take a break from breaking through, since they're no longer improving communication but actually destroying it. How? By making it easier and faster for people everywhere to be in constant contact with each other -- about nothing.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the social networking sites of which, I'm guessing, there are 375 (which probably jumped to 376 as I was typing "375"). MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Yuku and any other place inhabited by teens and young singles is not a world where we seniors belong. I learned this through personal experience when my ex-wife sent me an e-mail, asking me to be her Facebook friend.

We parted amicably decades ago and have remained in casual contact since. But being her Facebook friend felt like a deeper commitment. Just what is a Facebook friend? What are the responsibilities? Are there legal implications?

With some trepidation, I opened the link and there she was, smiling out at me expectantly, with two boxes next to her picture -- "Confirm" or "Ignore." I didn't want to get involved, but how can you ignore someone who's smiling at you and wants to be your friend? I clicked "Confirm" then briefly logged on to Google to research the side effects of my new acid-reflux medication. When I returned to Facebook, my inbox was bulging with 20 more requests for my friendship, most from people who were already my friends (but apparently that isn't good enough any more).

With each "Confirm" I clicked, the number of new friends expanded, and within an hour I had more than 50 -- some of whom were apparently Facebook friends of my Facebook friends, so I couldn't reject them because my friends would think their friends weren't good enough for me. Even worse, there were three messages on my "Wall" (whatever that was) and a space in which, at that time, I was supposed to answer the question, "What are you doing right now?" I was too ashamed to tell the truth ("I'm on Facebook"), so I decided to see what some of my new "friends" were "doing right now."

My daughter was "Drying my hair." Others were "Watching a rerun of Seinfeld in my underwear," "Eating leftover lasagna," "Looking for a clean pair of socks" and "Getting a colonoscopy" (this final one sent from the fellow's BlackBerry). In that moment, I knew exactly what I was "doing right now" -- and I typed it in: "Leaving Facebook forever."

Tomorrow will bring countless technological breakthroughs, I'm sure. But, for Christmas, unless they stop you from peeing three times a night, help you remember your Social Security number, or teach you to read without your glasses, I prefer underwear.

Bill Persky is a writer-producer-director whose credits include Kate & Allie, The Dick Van Dyke Show and That Girl.

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