Instant messaging

Published 6:06 am Thursday, December 1, 2016

On a Sunday afternoon not long ago, my daughter called to chat. My phone provides the option of assigning photos to specific people, so when she calls, I see her wearing a paper pirate hat and laughing. It’s a picture from a fun trip during which we toured a pirate ship at a museum. The treasure is in the memories. As we talked about this and that for close to an hour, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for being able to connect with her.

I’m also delighted that her brothers keep in touch with varying regularity. They each bring a unique style to the art of communication. One son prefers to converse via text messaging. He can apparently type with thumbs at the speed of thought. My typing abilities, initially developed on a typewriter and later adapted to a computer keyboard, fail on my phone’s tiny interface. Additionally, the device’s autocorrect feature sometimes “helps,” introducing a level of confusion into conversations. But we usually muddle through. The other son, whose work entails a lot of travel, checks in from time to time from random states across the country. The message is often brief, just a quick “Hi” or a picture with a caption. But the contact serves an important function. It lets me know he’s okay, and sometimes I can even figure out where he is.

Social media provides similar types of connections. In recent months, I’ve seen pictures of a friend’s newborn granddaughter, my niece’s vacation, and a cousin’s front yard — still intact after a hurricane encounter. None of these messages were particularly earthshaking, but they let me know immediately: The baby arrived; mother and child are both healthy. Travel plans went smoothly; we’re having a great time. We made it through the storm; all is well. Even when things haven’t gone according to plan, knowing about problems and being able to participate in solutions helps me feel connected to people I care about.

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This ability to receive nearly instantaneous messages is one I sometimes take for granted. Every once in a while, however, I stop to think about what it was like for people who had to rely on different technologies in earlier times.

Before internet connections, before text messaging and even before telephone conversations, urgent news arrived via telegram. Before that, messages traveled by boat or horseback. Sometimes runners carried them. In some cultures, messages were sent by smoke signal or the sounding of drums.

The desire to make announcements and tell stories about life events seems an integral part of the human experience. Newspaper Rock, a State Historic Monument in Utah, contains a collection of carvings called petroglyphs. Some of the images date back nearly 2,000 years. The meaning of the messages engraved in the rock has been lost through time, but recognizable images include human and animal shapes along with abstract forms. The Navajo name for the location, Tse’ Hane, means “rock that tells a story.” There are similarly engraved rocks in Arizona that depict clan, spiritual and event information.

In ancient times, natives of the American west were not unique in their yearning to tell the daily news.

Slightly more than 2,000 years ago in Israel, without access to social media, email or even a telegraph service, God wanted to make an important announcement. He wanted to tell people about the birth of his Son. To get the word out, he used a star to guide the Magi. He sent an angelic herald to tell a group of shepherds, “Fear not: For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Other characters in the nativity story received messages in dreams and interpreted the writings of ancient prophets. These old-school tools don’t have the shiny pizzazz of modern technology, yet the message they delivered continues to stir the hearts of all who receive it.

May the message continue to spread: Merry Christmas.

Karen Bellenir, a Farmville resident since 2009, blogs for Pier Perspectives at and serves as Editorial Director for Wordwright LLC ( A book titled Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia featuring a compilation of her past columns was published in September 2016. You can contact Karen at