So this is how we save time.

So this is how we save time.

Once, we walked. But one day someone captured and domesticated a horse or two. Of course, the animals needed fresh grass and water, plus hay and shelter in the winter, and there were messes that needed attention. Someone had to make saddles and buggies and all that stuff. But we got places faster.

Then someone said let’s lay parallel strips of steel across the fruited plain and roll along in trains. Of course, this meant dragging ore out of the ground and refining it, and it meant burning coal and fouling the air. But we got places faster.

Then someone said forget the horse and buggy. Let’s make horseless carriages. That meant more ore out of the ground, oil refined to gas to burn for pollution. It changed the way we design our cities, the way we work and play. It opened the doors to all kinds of knuckleheaded behavior that’s on display in every town every day. But we get places faster.

Once, we talked. We sat around the fire at the edge of the cave and formulated languages, words to describe that day’s battle against a saber-toothed tiger, words to help remember what to plant and when, words to name the stars in the night sky, and words to reach out to God. To connect with another human, you looked into his eyes and spoke words.

Then we learned how to write them down on papyrus or paper or billboards. Words could be preserved to the benefit of any future generation that bothered to read. Messages could be sent across time and across great distances, even if there was no way to look into the other person’s eyes. But it was progress.

Then we invented the telegraph, converting words to code and back. Messages had to be short, and the technology itself changed conventions of language and ways of thinking. But it was considered progress.

Then came the telephone, with an actual lifelike electronic recreation of the voice of a person a thousand miles away. You could not look into someone’s eyes, but you could hear joy, anger, desperation or hope in someone’s voice. The thing sits on your desk or rests in your pocket, where it rings all day, constantly interrupting one’s train of thought and workday efforts. It’s amazing we get anything done at all. But it’s progress.

There’s also texting. Messages have to be short, and the technology itself changes conventions of language and ways of thinking. But it’s progress, or so they tell me.

The best or worse might be e-mail. It is instant and probably way too easy. There are no eyes to look into, no inflection in the voice. Instead, the messages flow in all day with constant demands and invitations, come-ons and cons. But even now, the seers of future things hint, the day is not far off when e-mail will be as quaint as the telegraph or fax. Should we welcome or dread whatever replaces it?

Rest assured, however. The phone will still ring, and none of us will have a minute’s peace. And we’ll call it progress.