When I was a kid in Dunedin, Florida, I walked around - a lot. I didn't have a bike for years, but I rarely missed the wheels; everything was pretty well close at hand. One day, I was looking for the location of something or other, and I asked an old man for help. He pointed a finger upward and said, peering beyond the horizon, "It's over yonder." I might have been about eight, but even then I recognized how cool it was to hear the word "yonder." None of my friends said it, none of the adults I knew said it either.
"Yonder" is one of those words that float hazily outside of culture, one of those semiotic ghosts William Gibson wrote about in his short story, "The Gernsback Continuum." "Yonder" is recognizable in its vivid ability to conjure up a sense of time and place, but it is no longer present - except for a few older folks willing to carry it with them. It resides in and out of memory, like a fading sign once painted on a wall. Remembering my first encounter with the world "over yonder," I keep my eyes sharp for similar semiotic ghosts: things once alive and real and now ephemeral: recognizable but slightly removed from reality, shimmering before they fade forever.
I hear that Western Union sent its last telegram in 2006. Wow, I wish I'd ever sent or received one of those those things. I don't think I've ever held a telegram in my hand. I visualize a yellow or orange piece of paper, maybe with strips of typed writing glued onto its surface, the strips roughly aligned but somewhat askew. Of course, I see the word "STOP" separating clauses (supposedly one-character periods cost money but the four character STOP was free. Does that make any sense to you?). Telegrams represent an age of nearly-instant communication before cheap long distance and well before electronic mail. Telegrams were a tangible form of expression, even now resting in attics and basements around the world. I know what telegrams were. I remember them. Just not personally.
What's a swell semiotic ghost that you remember?
Please feel free to post your reply. And remember: semiotic ghosts are generational creatures. Yours will be different from mine. Squint your eyes just a bit. What do you see?
Learn More: STOP -- Telegram era over, Western Union says: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11147506/
Read More: William Gibson's The Gernsback Continuum