Many years ago, I was listening to the radio, and I heard an interview with a local business executive.  He was asked, “How do you start your day?”  He replied, “First, I check my e-mail.”  Wow, I thought.  That must be so cool. He is so important, he gets e-mail messages. 

The moral of this story is, be careful what you wish for.

Most of us get plenty of e-mail messages these days, meaning far too many.  On any given day, I hit “delete” until my finger is sore, without even getting past the subject line.  I don’t know these foreign princes, pharmaceutical miracle workers, or political activists, but somehow they have found me.  Sure, I block them, but that’s like playing “whack-a-mole.”  They’ll just pop up somewhere else.

It makes one long for the old days, when all we had to worry about were junk mailers.  Sure, there was an occasional sales phone call during dinner, or a random knock on the door from a vacuum cleaner salesman, but that was nothing compared to the deluge of today.

It isn’t just e-mail.  Even if it is someone you know, e-mail is only one form of contact.  “Why haven’t you answered my message?” people will frequently ask.  “Gee, I didn’t see it,” I reply.  “Well, I sent it more than a week ago,” they say.

So I begin my search.  How did I miss it?  I look in my junk folder.  And how insulting is that?  “I didn’t get your message because you were in my junk pile.”  “Well, get me out of there!”

Was it a Twitter message?  Maybe a Facebook message?  A text message?  “No,” they will say. “I sent you an Instagram.”  When I tell them I don’t do Instagram, they’ll say, “Well, next time, I’ll message you on LinkedIn.”  Sorry, you won’t find me there, either.  “Here, let me give you a card,” I’ll say. “Just call me.”  They look at me like I have a third eye.  “You mean, on the phone?” they say.  “Sure,” I reply.  “Well…if I have to,” they say, as if I had asked them to lift a Chrysler.

Unbeknownst to some, those little gadgets they carry around still make phone calls.  For many, their primary purpose is to take pictures.  Recently, I was using an actual Nikon camera to take some shots, and my younger co-workers laughed as if I were Moses holding the stone tablets.

Not that long ago, you could see teenagers crossing busy streets, phone placed firmly on ear.  But that is so, so 2008.  Now, these “smartphone zombies” are staring at their screen, sending messages, oblivious to the approaching traffic. Why talk to someone, when you can simply send a text?  Does anyone know the last time a guy actually used the spoken word to ask a girl out?  I’m pretty sure George Bush was president, and I don’t mean “W.”

I often wonder how life would have been, if texting had come first. Can you imagine?  “Guys, you’ll never believe this! They just invented something new!  We don’t have to use our thumbs anymore!  There’s no more auto-correct, sending the wrong words!” (I once sent my wife a text, intending to say, “I will call you later today.”  Somehow it became “I will call you Larry today.” She was not amused.)

Anyway, the conversation would have continued this way: “So what’s this new invention?” “Well, believe it or not, now you can actually SPEAK to your friend on the other end.  And they can talk back!  They can hear you, and you can hear them!  It’s just like you’re face to face!” The streets would have erupted in joy, and people would have actually talked to one another again. Too bad it worked out the other way around.

Speaking of bygone days, back in ancient times you could go on vacation, lounge on your favorite beach, and leave your annoying co-workers behind.  No more.  Your beloved smartphone is rarely out of reach, leading to awkward beach conversations like this. “Harry, where are you?” “Oh, I’m at Daytona, just soaking up some rays.” “Great. Do you remember where you filed those papers from that account?”  “Uh, dude, I’m on vacation.” “Never mind that! Which shoebox did you file them in?”  I long for the days when a vacation meant a period in which “regular activity is suspended for a planned period of time,” like it says in the dictionary.  Those wondrous little phones are eating into our down time.

Most saddening of all is this fact. Many of the parents who have been arrested for leaving their child in a hot car did not forget their phone.  Now that’s out of control.