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.