The Last Word by Marcus Fisk

The Last Word – A Time for Reflection and Compassion? Who Cares?


The Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, where the author spent many joyful Christmases. (Photo: The Mark Twain House & Museum)

Alexandria, VA – It is my heart-warm and world-embracing Christmas hope and aspiration that all of us, the high, the low, the rich, the poor, the admired, the despised, the loved, the hated, the civilized, the savage (every man and brother of us all throughout the whole earth), may eventually be gathered together in a heaven of everlasting rest and peace and bliss, except the inventor of the telephone.

Mark Twain, “Christmas Greetings,”

Boston Daily Globe, December 25, 1890

Decades ago, back in the days of ancient history, before the “Boomer” generation ever existed, people of many nations would send one another short, often lovely and meaningful messages of holiday cheer called “Christmas Cards.”

Our parents and grandparents would spend weeks cobbling together address lists of family and friends – intended recipients of these little snippets of good tidings – to let others know what our families were up to during the soon-to-be-completed year. It became popular in the 1980s to include a Christmas newsletter, a one-or-two-page detailed write-up of the comings and goings, vacations taken, kids born or “graduated” from elementary school, family dogs or cats gone over the “Rainbow Bridge,” Sonny’s attendance at the Annual Boy Scout Jamboree in the Great Dismal Swamp, cars totaled, epidemics survived, old cantankerous Uncles or spinster Aunts who had passed on, and glowing yet boring sentence upon boring sentence of the Varsity Badminton Team victory of Lower Joaquin River Valley College over Whatsamatta U.

In bygone days, it was easier to keep track of our family and friends’ addresses since people may have graduated from college and moved from their old hometown in Springfield[i] with their company to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. A change of address note kept us up-to-date on their new location.

I remember during high school, our parents considered the telephone to cause the demise of written letters. It was a challenge in a family of six to take or make telephone calls with only one line in the residence. And like the arrival of color television and the remote – we all were dazzled by their introduction – the hyperbolic skirmishes over control of those wonders were frequent and heated. Yet, despite long-distance calling, Mom still made us send cards and letters to relatives as thank yous for gifts or to send birthday wishes or news on the home front.

Today, “social media” only provides synthetic interaction between parties. Social Media now embraces and rewards “influencers,” that new career path of narcissistic and socially deprived wannabees who enjoy the limelight but possess the truth, warmth, and connection of the cockroach – they’re into everything, scurrying around everywhere in the dark, and leaving nothing of value to humankind except communicable filth, contagion, and confusion.

Mark Twain reading to his daughter Jean. One of his greatest joys was reading Christmas stories to his daughters. (Photo: The Mark Twain House)

The telephone was intended to improve communication between people, mainly due to the complexities of distance and time getting letters through what is affectionately called snail mail today. It did make talking easier and allowed a closer connection between parties.

In the 1990s, the technologies advanced so fast and far and became so mobile that connection became more immediate and instant. Once the device grew in sophistication aligning with the computer, it ceased to be a phone to become something more akin to a Star Trek communicator. Add to that the marriage to social media applications like MySpace, Facebook (rebranded as “Meta”), Twitter (rebranded as “X”), WhatsApp, Instagram, and dating apps, and the social media spectrum was lauded as the new way to get people together through the application of technology.

Social Media has actually proved to be Social Irony. Labeling anything related to technology connections as “social” is a misnomer since it is actually synthetic and anything but social. Young people today miss much of what we called social – events, genuine communication, and even graces that built and infused an entire culture.

Chatting is done in a vacuum with frequent misunderstandings and misinterpretations because communications lack the multi-level benefits of eye contact or voice and tone inflections that are really, really important to effective and healthy communication. A few years back, I watched an entire elevator of phone-tapping 20-somethings all “talking” to one another via text without looking up at one another.

It was staggering to see just how much they were missing – looking at each other, laughing at a joke, admiring a historic site without kissing yet another “selfie,” and truly getting to know one another through open and honest discussion at Happy Hour over drinks at a local watering hole.

Today, the largest and most famous area of the globe – the confluence of the world’s three largest religions – is engulfed in flame and fury. This season is supposed to be when people wish one another “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all men (writer’s note – ‘and women’).” In addition to the horrendous loss of lives and tragic destruction of neighborhoods and livelihoods, the presence of communications technology and social media has not been able to promote the concepts of Peace and Goodwill.

(Photo: Can Stock Image)

Technology has been manipulated and engineered instead to foment lies, spread propaganda, and generate hatred, which has changed this holiest of places during the holiest time of the year to what should more aptly be called the “Un-Holy Land.”

In a time when communication and technology could be combined to get people together to seize the moment and resolve centuries-old issues, it looks more and more like Mark Twain was right. He may have called it the “telephone” over a hundred years ago, but we all know what he meant. Human nature doesn’t change from epoch to epoch, even if technology does. Once again, it appears that we have missed a golden opportunity.

[i] Not to be confused with the Simpsons’ hometown.

ICYMI: Alexandria Beautification Commission Honors Area Residential, Commercial, and Community Properties

Related Articles

Back to top button