Forms of Communication

I’ve been thinking recently about forms of communication that we’ve come to take for granted. Things are so ‘easy’ now with cell phones, text messages, email. Whatever we have on our minds, we can shoot off to someone, whether they are available, interested or not. Whenever I have something on my mind, I can send an email or text to my office or my kids, and then it’s their problem not mine. The problem is, there is no human being on the other end of that line. We don’t hear a voice, don’t have a conversation, don’t have to listen to what they think about it. It’s a strictly one way street, independent of time differences or convenient times. And similarly, they can answer me whether I’m awake, at home, or available, or not.

That would be great if we used text messaging the way people used telegrams when I was a child, to say “Happy Birthday!” or “Missed my flight. Be home on Tuesday.” But for an exchange between two human beings, or worse yet, to conduct a relationship, I think that email and text messages fall short. There is no exchange. It’s like shooting arrows into the other person’s backyard. There is no human touch or voice to go with the message. I know of whole romances (particularly among the young) that are conducted by text, without a single phone call.

Clearly, for no reason I fully understand, people are having a much harder time meeting each other today. The innumerable Internet dating services are testimony to that. If people were having an easy time meeting each other, the dating services wouldn’t exist at all. And I have seen that difficulty in meeting a mate/partner/companion at every age. My youngest daughter in college gets endless texts but surprisingly few calls, likewise with my older ones. Many kids today prefer urban campuses, where there is no campus life, and it’s a lot harder to meet people. Most students prefer not to live in dorms, so they are suddenly experiencing the loneliness of apartment living at a very young age. Adults are proud of being able to work at home. That means no random meeting of cute girls or guys at the fax machine or water cooler. And people in their 30’s and 40’s are finding it’s a lot harder to meet someone than it should be. And people in their 50’s and upwards are having an even tougher time. They get emails from friends, they can find almost anyone on the Internet and use an Internet dating service to meet someone, but there seems to be a lot less face to face, voice to voice contact these days. Several alumni magazines even have a personals column now. That tells you that people at every socio-economic level, with every possible kind of education, even an elite one, are having a tough time meeting people, finding a romance, or maybe even making new friends.

I think we are losing something important here, as a result of technology. I think we are losing human contact, the pleasure of hearing someone’s voice on the phone, and a chance to chat, talk, interrupt each other and have a good laugh, or patch up a disagreement, rather than simply dropping a bomb on the other person by email or text.  Sometimes the damage that causes is hard to fix. Nuclear missile by text. Effective, but sometimes disastrous. I think it’s something to watch out for — that we don’t trade expediency and convenience for something far more important: the sound of another person’s voice, their touch, and the irreplaceable look in their eyes. We forget too easily the human being on the other end of those messages. And they forget the same about us.

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4 Comments so far
  1. Christa January 9, 2009 5:58 pm

    These days a hand written letter is always appreciated among my friends. Sometimes you have to send these “physical” things to remind everyone that you are actually a real living person.

    But you are right, people do seem to be almost afraid of meeting up face to face. Internet is providing that false sense of security that you can be anonymous and everyone is hiding behind different names and identities.
    When I grew up there was no Internet and no technology in the way we have today, but by the end of 1990’s it was just as normal to check email in the morning as that first cup of coffee.

    I only hope that this alienation we have towards each other won’t create more fear than it already does.
    Internet do shrink this planet, but it also build a lot of walls around us at the same time.

  2. Kim January 12, 2009 8:41 am

    I’ve discussed this before on my blog. At times, I despise–fought against this hyper mobile ADD world and find the need to simply pull away for a bit. I’ve found email. text, twitter, etc. erodes the capacity for human attention. Personal phone calls are indeed the needed building block for intimacy and wisdom our society is losing–lacking in email, text etc. converse.

  3. Lisa January 13, 2009 1:13 pm

    I always take the time to write a card to friends and actually mail it to them. Call me victorian but I think its a sweet and rare gesture. I often ask myself how, as a person of an older generation did we get by without cell phones. I think we had to be more outgoing and interesting. we liked to hang out in big groups and actually talk. My adult son has a habit of texting at he table. I dont like that. What does he have to talk about?? He speaks less than he texts! I think actual conversation is going to be an artform somewhere in the near future.

  4. Cathy August 10, 2011 4:30 am

    You are right, Internet changes our relationship completely. But it can be for better, so so much better for me. When you live miles away from somebody you love, a real time chat, a day to day email, a voice message ( yes can listen to your love one) , a video call save your relationship especially when there is so much time difference between the country where your partner live. And moreover you can keep those emails, record those phone calls and read and listen to them over and over. A love letter has so much power on me … I thank everyday that Internet exists and that I can receive these letters. 
    I have experienced both with the same friend: 25 years ago, the only way to communicate with him was phone and letters. Because of the time difference and the cost of the calls, we privileged letters. We wrote beautiful love  handwriting letters to each other during four years, we saw each other twice only during those 4 years, but it was so difficult that this relationship ended with no fight but it finally disappeared … All the souvenirs remained however. 
    A year ago, I found an article written by him on the Internet. There were no email address but I was so happy to see him and so in need to find out what happened in his life that I succeeded to retrieve his email. We restarted our conversation where we left it 25 years ago and we wrote in 3 languages now . Again tks to internet to help us translating our thoughts in the language that we need. Incredible but true. I am even farther from him than I was at that time but the new technology make us feel closer than we never had. We even met again , a wonderful and unforgettable time . Yes I am grateful everyday that this new technology exists . The only thing we now need to invent is teleportation ! Haha .
    My life is a wonderful real  story that could be part of your marvelous books that I enjoy so much.