I had a phone call last night with my friend from high school. We remarked that we had to schedule the call via an email exchange. This is an actual friend, someone that I have seen from time to time over the many decades since we parted ways from growing up on Long Island. It was nice to hear from him and spend time catching up, something that neither of us have done in a while.
I told him that it was curious how never before in human history do we have so many different communications tools at our disposal but so little actual inter-personal communication that takes place. Every day we email, text, Instagram, Tweet, and send other electronic missives to people that are virtual strangers. Many of my correspondents I have never actually met face to face.
And while I mentioned all these electronic choices, notice that I didn’t list the telephone. It seems to be obsolete. Giving someone a call out of the blue nowadays is usually seen as bringing bad news: a family illness, say. Or something else that is wrong. What happened to those days when we picked up the phone just to chat? It is more likely that when the phone rings, it is some telemarketer who is trying to sell us something. Indeed, while we were talking, my friend’s landline phone rang (naturally we were talking on our cells) with such a call.
As adults, we make “friends” who are not actually friends, develop “followers” composed of people who would not follow us out of a room, and “like” things whether we really like them or not. “Sharing” isn’t really about caring, it is just another button click on a webpage that doesn’t really take much forethought or carry with it any emotional connection. We no longer even have to come up with a good line at a bar to meet someone, thanks to the dating app Tinder. (Not that I would really know much about that, I should hasten to add.) This is progress?
Maybe it is all the fault of email, which got things moving in this direction many years ago, when we could sit in front of our computers and not have to talk to anyone to get our thoughts across. I remember when I started a magazine back in 1990 and we had hooked everyone up via email the first time. It soon became easier to write something rather than get up and walk across the office a few feet. So it began for me, and I am sure many of you also discovered this alternative to face-to-face communications back then.
Or it could be the fault of texting and instant messaging, tools that Gen Y has had almost from birth it seems.
Not that I am saying all e-communication is bad, just that it has taken some of the spontaneity and serendipity out of things.
On the other hand, certainly email and some of the other electronic tools have made it possible to reach a broad audience at a speed and scope that wasn’t ever thought possible. Within a few seconds of sending this newsletter out, many of you will have me at a disadvantage (at least those of you that actually read this). You will know what I am doing, what I am working on, what I am thinking. That is both wonderful and somewhat scary at times, depending on what you say to me when we actually do meet face to face.
And then there is this. As someone who is mostly introverted, all these tools have enabled me to communicate with more people than I have ever thought possible, as I sit here in my office, alone and in front of many screens and keyboards.
I don’t have any real words of wisdom for you. My takeaway is just to sit back for a few moments, think of the friends that you have that are actual friends, whom you have shared a meal or some important activity over the years. And pick up the phone and give them a quick call, to let them know that you are thinking about them. See if you can do it without making the arrangements in a text or an email.
I have been subscribing to and receiving your ezine for about 20 years. Today’s post accurately describes the path which humans have evolved to in the world of digital-electronic communication. What are the unintended consequences that are rattling around which we have not fully appreciated beyond the obvious ? You have pointed out some. There are many others which are worthy of identifying and tracking that I will start logging on an ongoing basis. I think that the “unintended consequences” of late 20th – 21st century human communications modalities is very worthy of a serious treatment.
Being a 5th generation Canadian, it occurred to me that even the act of immigration has been seriously disrupted by modern communications. When my great-great grandfather arrived in the early 19th century, you got on the boat and you came to your new country and had virtually no further communication with your home country beyond the occasional letter spread over the remainder of one’s life. The immigrant now had an unequivocal new home which was fairly rapidly adopted. In the 21st century, immigrants arrive from where-ever tethered with a continuous stream of multi-media communications from their home country in their native language. Is it any wonder that the immigrant takes much, much longer to feel that they are a new citizen of a new home country rather than a perpetual visitor.
Immigration aside, the public education system still has not applied any resources to codifying and teaching what the ethics and etiquette of modern communications is all about. The plethora of problems emerging from the digital social media scene is indicative of this complete laissez-faire chaotic approach. Much of the social media behaviour that has become standard fare would never be accepted in civil society no more than 20 years ago.
Will look forward to a continued dialog.
good point(s). it’s getting more difficult to disconnect from the always-connected, always-on stream of communication we either must absorb or produce for our social ‘second lives’. that + the psychological proclivities or maladies which are also produced by these situations. sherry turkle has provided some great insight into the phenomena – most recently in a book titled ‘alone together’.
Guys, both good points. I have read Turkle’s book and she has some great things to say, esp. as you say the implications of being in front of the screen so much.
And John your thoughts about new immigrants are very interesting. I never really gave that aspect much thought. My daughter is half way around the world herself and planning on becoming a new immigrant herself in short order, and being able to communicate with her via Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp et al makes it easier to stay in touch, but you are right, she is taking longer to learn the language and assimilate into that society as a direct result.
You’re right, David. And I’m noticing an uptick in phone calls lately. To me, email is about the ability to communicate asynchronously, and at one’s convenience, where a phone is about communicating in real time. Text has made little sense to me for anything longer than a quick snippet, maybe a location update, or for passing notes in class. Why in the world would we trade a text interface when a vocal interface is just so much richer?
Thanks for your “call to action” David; I’m calling one of my childhood friends in The Netherlands tomorrow 🙂
Spot on David. Communication has become so impersonal these days and that’s a huge loss to both our personal and business lives.
There are some great digital tools, but we should see them as that rather than an alternative to face-to-face [OK, I know the telephone isn’t face-to-face, but you know what I mean]. We all have a phone with us at almost all times – if we want to be sure to get directly to the person we want to talk with, it’s the best tool we have.
David, Just want to let you know how much I enjoy your thought-provoking and well-written missives. I’ve been on your list for quite a few years, and yours is one of the few emails I always read pretty soon after it arrives.
This post is spot on, David. I was just saying to another friend of mine that there is nothing like actually picking up the phone and having a conversation with a friend. It’s all too easy to send a text here and there, but you lose the art of actually connecting with one another when you don’t have verbal conversations.