Sometimes we become so accustomed to the way things are, we fail to notice how peculiar they happen to be. And for once, I’m not just referring to Clinton, Obama and Edwards. For example, compare the way that the weather is reported in your local newspaper with the way it’s presented on TV. It’s the same weather, after all, but in a newspaper it’s usually relegated to a small box unless, of course, a hurricane or a major earthquake is garnering headlines. But nobody even gets a byline for reporting that it’s going to be 52 degrees and overcast tomorrow. But on TV, the weather report is a big deal and the local weatherman is nearly as well-known as the anchor and the fellow who lets you know the football scores. The fact is, if newspapers played up the weather the way TV does, they’d have to devote 15 or 20 pages to it on a daily basis.
The reason TV likes to give such emphasis to weather is because it’s such a cheap way to fill the time between commercials. The news gathering consists of a phone call to the weather bureau. After that, all they need to do is hand the talking head a pointer, stick him in front of a blue screen and have him natter on about cold fronts and high pressure areas until the audience at home is so bored they find they’re actually looking forward to the Viagra spots.
While I’ve been aware of this phenomenon for many years, it was only the other day that I became aware that a similar situation exists when you compare telephone calls and e-mail. Both are similar in that they involve communication and commerce. I mean, we’ve always had junk mail delivered to our door and now we have spam. The major difference is that when you relegated all those flyers for pizza parlors and carpet cleaners to the trash can, they didn’t pop back up five minutes later.
But as awful as spam is, imagine for a moment what life would be like if the phone calls you receive from friends and relatives were exactly like the e-mail that far too many people seem compelled to send. What if Aunt Ellen, instead of calling to say hello, chat about the kids or ask you how the hip replacement went, simply launched into eight or nine jokes that were old when Henny Youngman was young? Or, how many family reunions would you attend if Uncle Harry, instead of just bragging about his golf game, told you a heart-warming story, and finished up by saying you’d suffer dire consequences if you didn’t immediately pass the story along to 10 people within the next 10 minutes?