Barbara Monroe

Barbara began her comments by noting

"Attitudes toward technology haunt us, often unconsciously dictating the conditions of future use. And those first experiences are decidedly marked by socioeconomic class—and not just in terms of money but also in terms of assumptions about children and adult conversations and family communications. Even though my life and Patty's life span roughly the same time period, my own experiences are much more limited—and continue to be. No Skype in my life. No IMing to speak of. And definitely no connecting with Grandpa to find out when he was coming to supper in my childhood.” 

Then she recalled her family's telephone habits.

"My distant family uses the telephone only when someone has died, and then only after-hours or on Sunday afternoon. The conversation is short with just the bare minimum of phatic speech ('Howya doin'?' 'Hear y'all been gettin' some rain?') before breaking the news ('Listen, I've got some bad news.') and just enough commiseration time to be respectful before the requisite closing ('Well, gotta go. Don't want to run up your phone bill.')—even though money is no longer the issue it was in my parents' day. "



In Barbara’s response, Rumsey’s (2009) concepts of heritage literacy and the ideas of Manuel Castells (1996) come face-to-face. The practices that Barbara recounts are products of social practices and tool use that have remained somewhat constant despite changes in communication technology. Even though phone calls are now relatively inexpensive, those accustomed to timing calls and keeping them short retain the habits they developed in years past. Many of us in our 40s and beyond have a regularly occurring conversation with our parents on Sunday evening. This call is a kind of heritage literacy event, based partly on the convenience of a Sunday night (when people traditionally stayed home), but also on the old phone rates that made Sunday evening a cheap time to call.

Is the structural schizophrenia that Castells predicted part of what Barbara’s family is experiencing as well? Castells theorized that those connected to the network and those unconnected may well be caught in this in-between space. His contrast between the space of places and the space of flows led him to predict a "structural schizophrenia between the two spatial logics that threatens to break down communication channels in a society" (p. 459). He claimed that although people still live in places, function and power in the network society is "organized in the space of flows" which "essentially alters the meaning and dynamic of places" (p. 458). The result of this breakdown is an inability to "share cultural codes," which Castells' predicted may lead us "toward life in parallel universes whose times cannot meet because they are warped into different dimensions of a social hyperspace" (p. 458-459).



Castells’ disconnects can affect families as well as government and business. Families need to build the bridges between these parallel universes that Castells counsels are needed, but how are those constructed? How do the technological elites and those living with less access and less interest in the most current mode of communication make sure they can still communicate? For us, this is a question without an easy answer.

Part of the answer might lie in dredging up our recollections about past technologies and telling the stories about them. Stories about party lines, the neighborhood TV (Villanueva), telephone rate structures, and even stories about not-so-far-removed technologies like dial-up Internet access, and MOOs and MUDs (Day). Because communication technologies move so quickly, family communication literacies (even our family heritage literacies) can be like a fast-moving river. Keeping afloat in them, keeping families in touch, will require bridges—story bridges to situate those who are trying to keep in touch. Memoria serves as a bridge-builder in a time of rapid change.