|No one ever foresaw anything like this|
Back in the sixties and seventies, when people visualized the future, ie, "now," they imagined a world of talking computers, a world of massive environmental degradation, and a world where we would be able to watch adorable-kitten videos anytime we pleased. All of this has come to pass. What no one ever imagined, was that people would go through their daily lives, heads bowed down over their smartphones, that we would take pictures of food before we ate it, or that we would text. It is texting in particular that constitutes the greatest threat to civilization as we know it.
Pause for a moment, to think of conflicts great and small brought about by something somebody said and was unable to take back. Caesar crosses the Rubicon and says "the die is cast." A lot of bloodshed and empire-building could've been prevented if he'd said nothing at all. He could've changed his mind and walked right back across the Rubicon, and no one would have been the wiser.
This, of course, is an example of conflict on the world stage, but things people say bring about the majority of smaller-scale contretemps as well. I do not need to give examples of these because everyone is already all too familiar with examples of their own. Consider, however, that in the past, there was an "escape hatch" available for anyone who found he'd spoken not wisely but too well. You could always deny having said it at all. Remarks such as "That's not what I said," or "You misheard me," or even "I never said anything like that in my life, and you'd have to be crazy to think I ever would," might have been frustrating at the outset of a good, promising argument with lots of potential, but they had the effect of derailing things before they got out of hand.
Couples would say things such as, "I wish I had a tape-recorder right now so you could hear how you sound." The real wish was to document precise wording to be used later on in a good old knock-down, drag-out fight. (For youngsters who never heard of a tape-recorder, it was like an iPod only not.) Fortunately, however, the wished-for tape-recorder, unlike the iPhone, was never available when you wanted it.
If you were completely cornered with a verbatim transcript of the exact dumb-ass comment you had made, you could still wriggle out of it by saying, "I was only kidding."
Now, however, we have to taken to committing our every passing thought to print where they will be available in some cybernetic cloud until the crack of doom. "That selfie makes you look like your mother if she put on a few pounds and hadn't waxed her mustache," might seem a witty and apropos remark at the time, but it is not perhaps something you'd wish available should your significant other one day cross-examine you about it on the witness stand. Moreover, if you unwisely put an emoticon such as a frowny-face with an eyebrow raised, signifying seriousness of intent, you would not later be able to claim you were "just kidding."
Widespread texting has been with us less than a generation, and the full calamitous threat of the practice has yet to be revealed. But we have already seen countless personal tragedies brought about by careless posting of personal pictures and videos on Facebook and elsewhere. In the fullness of time, these incidents, painful as they are, will pale in comparison to the damage wrought by texted comments that cannot be retracted or denied. We will see our error only when earth is a smoking ruin because of things we texted and cannot take back.
But don't hold me to that.