In eighth grade, the privileged girls’ school I attended had us writing “Basic” computer language programs for a computer that looked like a refrigerator with lights. The same year, my discovery of Atari’s Pong and Space Invaders in my friend’s basement marked my first lost hours. Each generation witnesses technological advancements. Mine have included HD, CDs, DVDs, PDAs, VCRs, Wii, SKUs, and touch-tone cordless telephones. Ironically, it seems as communications technologies undergo advancement, the dunderheads that are use them are not. Instead, we hone our avoidance and anti-communications skills and undermine the integrity, quality, and intent of the word “communication.”
I had to attend some classes to earn my Mass Communications degree and at least one taught me communication is much more than the words used. Body language and vocal intonation are equally important to the exchange of information. With none of this going for it, text messaging gets my vote for the number one communication regression disguised as advancement. Yes, texting is ideal if used to notify you that your wife just gave birth to a healthy baby boy while you’re stuck in a meeting in Malaysia. But more often, it is a pretense to convey information while the truth can be skillfully avoided.
With no worry of your body language giving you away, no pesky eye or bodily contact, and never being interrupted, it’s a perfect method of communication for the phobic lying control freak. No one wants to hear that writing words at someone is no quicker than talking to them (especially if you can’t type on miniscule keyboards). People live inside their ego-worlds where one can always misconstrue the other party’s intention. This works well for those who always want to be mad at somebody. I have known families who would text each other from different floors of their houses. They often ate their dinners in front of the big screen TV, too. Like removing the sweet from a cookie and the fast from NASCAR, people rob themselves of the pleasure of conversation by all too often choosing this device to ‘speak’. But it may work out good for the next generation who hopefully won’t have to learn that dumb ole’ cursive handwriting thing.
The advancements in communications have also given rise to people writing things to each other they would otherwise never say. I call them evil e-mails. We are all guilty of some form of this communication faux-pas. My introduction to this phenomenon was a hateful ‘you suck as a friend’ e-mail received from a friend a couple months before my wedding. She saved herself some money on presents and I found out how easy it is for people to dump their unhappiness on you with one twitch of a finger. And I learned that once you’ve opened up an evil e-mail, you are compelled to sit there, transfixed in horror, and read it and take it. I understand that it’s cathartic to punch at the keys and barf up your feelings on the computer screen but just don’t put the address in until you’re really ready to verbally say it. If it’s worth saying, than it needs to be said to the person face to face. You are allowed to be mad. You’re not allowed to be mean.
After my first encounter with evil e-mail, I had a bad taste in my mouth for e-mails. I’d been emotionally ambushed. The big electric box on the desk was a reminder of how vulnerable I felt. I lost some more friends because I wouldn’t do email anymore. I figured if they were my friends and they wanted to converse, I was worth the call. But the calls dwindled. And I stayed away from the ‘box’ for eight years.
E-mail is a pale substitution for the art of conversation and the ultimate in eye-contact avoidance. Like bacteria in a Petri dish, it is the perfect place to breed misunderstandings. If I respect my friendship with you, there are certain conversations that we should have in person. Cyberspace is a dangerous egotistical realm in which people can stand on soap boxes and bark at a captive audience (much like writing this article). Sometimes I still feel like a cheat and a miscommunication enabler when I answer e-mails. I am satisfied after a long talk on the phone with my sister. I enjoy picking out interesting stamps at the post office because I know how good it feels to retrieve a letter from the mailbox.
These communication advancements are also disrupting our rules of etiquette as well as destroying some of the brain cells that we use for common sense. I am from the old school where we were told you don’t interrupt someone while they’re speaking. Yet, the cell phone seems an ever present excuse in ones pocket to interrupt the person you’re talking with. The phone rings and the phone person may say, ‘Hold on, I’m taking this call.’, if they’re polite enough to even say something to you at all. They have just told you you’re not important and that either they, or the caller, are more important. The person who is texting while you are talking to them is equally as guilty. This is rude and slightly passive aggressive.
More victims displaying symptoms of diseased social graces resulting from the epidemic of over usage of cell phones lurk on the golf course where John Q. Public could actually be out relaxing instead of continuing his busyness and busting everyone else’s Zen in the process. We are forced to endure loud random ring tones and over exaggerated talking while in a restaurant or in a bathroom stall. And if you Twitter that event in there, I am so not your friend or anyone that has ever known you. I could look up some therapist names in your area for you if you find it necessary to broadcast that you’re feeling ‘randy’ on Face Book. And are twelve-year-olds mature enough for the responsibility of a phone if they can’t keep a hamster alive?
It’s pathetic when the manufacturers of the texting devices have to put up a huge billboard in downtown Washington, D.C., that tells people not to text and drive. Why should anyone have to tell you to not do this? You’d think common sense would tell you your eyes can only be one place at a time. While we’re driving, they’re supposed to be on the road. Don’t get me wrong, if these people inadvertently cleaned up their gene pools, excellent work, but when they end up taking ours out with them, that’s bad.
My thought is that our social dysfunction is nothing new. We’re just exhibiting the same dysfunctions handed down from past generations through the usage of these technologies. People don’t talk to one another because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear in response. It makes perfect sense to limit the possibilities for hearing if you don’t want to hear. If you intend to stay away from your fellow human beings or family members as much as possible, then you must be thanking your lucky stars you live in a world full of such wonderful technology. You never have to talk to anyone. You can be an island and you can still have a live Christmas tree and groceries delivered to your front door in time to enjoy the solitude of the holiday.
Real heart-to-heart talks don’t include emoticons (they include winks and hugs.) You have to be and have a good enough friend for these to be delivered to your front door. Looking someone in the eye and telling the truth is certainly risky, but may just lead you to the best feeling ever; a friendship earned by old fashioned communication.