“I wish it was easier to talk to people. Real human beings,” said a repairman at my home.
I’d watched him dial corporate, select the right options (several times) and finally reach the right department only to be put on hold (by a recording) for another twenty minutes.
Then, while talking to his boss, they got disconnected. He had to go through it all over again.
“I know what you mean,” I said.
We e-mail, text, tweet, Link-in, chat, comment, message, post and tell the world on Facebook what we “like” (or don’t).
We can watch movies and our favorite television shows, participate in Webinars, listen to podcasts — even get an education — on a cellphone, tablet or computer.
A growing list of high-tech devices connect us to (almost) all people and information that exist.
But all these instant connections have a price and not just in dollars.
The more connected we are, the further apart we’re becoming.
Call it collateral damage. Blame it on evolution. But technology is squeezing out conversations with people.
High-tech is making conversation obsolete.
Posts, comments, tweets and texts have a politically correct (and often technologically-controlled) number of words or characters allowed for any given transmission.
The new rule is, less is better. Make your point fast then get out. End Trans.
I understand but don’t always like it.
Conversations are becoming politically incorrect.
Communication Has Changed
The way we communicate using the new technology has already affected not only our vocabulary and how we communicate online, it’s influencing how we talk (or don’t) in person.
People not only communicate in texts on cell phones; they now talk in texts and soundbites in real-life conversations.
Even our devices want us to talk to them instead of people. Siri (Speech Interpretation and Recognition Interface) constantly interrupts me on my cell phone, insisting she wants to help.
This is how it went, the last time I talked to her:
Me: “Find the closest urgent care clinic East of here.”
Siri: “Find lowest merge genital hair link to yeast this year. Right?”
I like technology. Love having information so close. But I enjoy and appreciate talking to real people too.
Missing Good Conversations
You remember conversations. Right? They happen when two or more people get together, stop multi-tasking (for the moment) and slow down enough to hear another person.
Communication isn’t solely for exchanging info. It’s where we reveal to others who we are and they respond in kind.
It’s not branding, creating a profile or a presence online.
Those concepts are technological substitutes for introducing ourselves and then getting to know someone by talking and listening to another person.
Anything can happen in real-life conversations. We banter, tell stories, share experiences, dreams and hopes. Sometimes we become vulnerable and expose our emotions (that’s like using an emoticon — only better).
Good conversations can wander, take us places we haven’t been.
Conversations can inspire and expand thinking; they can bring answers to questions we forgot we had or information we didn’t know we needed until we heard it.
A collective consciousness can take over when two or more people talk. Epiphanies happen — during good conversations.
Unlike texts and tweets, we remember a good conversation. It can stay with us (like a good movie) long after it ends.
One conversation I remember took place in Israel in 1997. I was traveling the country alone, checked into a hotel for the evening and went to the restaurant for dinner.
While I was trying to figure out where to sit in a crowded room, a woman motioned to me. She didn’t speak any English; I didn’t speak Hebrew. But I understood what she wanted: she was inviting me to sit at her table and dine with her.
We sat together for more than an hour and didn’t speak one word.
But we weren’t eating like two strangers sitting next to each other at a counter in a diner. We were present for each other — aware of the other person.
After we finished eating, we sat for a while until — as if on cue — we knew our time together was over. We nodded, smiled and went our separate ways.
Conversations can help us feel close to people. Sometimes they (conversations) even change lives.
There are times we don’t want to talk. And yes, some conversations can be draining, suck the soul right out of us. Other conversations can be annoying. Some, downright boring.
Those aren’t the kinds of conversations I’m talking about. (We know how to end trans.)
Good conversation is honest, spontaneous, without agenda. The people involved want to talk to each other.
We don’t need an I.D. and password to participate. We only need to be present and open for it (a conversation) to happen.
Now you remember. Right?
Someone takes a moment to ask the cashier how she is — because he cares. The words we use aren’t memorized or from a bumper sticker: Have a nice day! They’re from the heart.
Sincere is the word that comes to mind.
I miss the long conversations I used to have on the phone (the old-fashioned kind), where we relaxed and talked for hours. (Yes, a good conversation can last that long.)
No yelling, “Can you hear me now?” No standing on a chair outside to get enough bars to connect on the cell phone. No interruptions while the other person repeatedly shouts, “You still there?” and you’re not because your battery died.
The conversation itself – experiencing it — is the event, not one more thing to do while we multi-task our way through life.
We feel good during a good conversation. Feel good about it after. Good conversations – brief or extended – are sprinklings of gold dust in life.
I miss conversation and conversationalists. Those moments, minutes or hours when people drop their guard, let thoughts and ideas flow, tell us their stories and show us who they are.
Leisurely conversations, where the topics take unexpected twists and turns, are what I miss most. A good conversation can take you for a ride. You laugh. Cry. Become inspired. It’s not like entering data into a computer.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
What The Future Holds for Communication
People (including me) wonder about the future. What’s it going to look and be like here in another twenty-thirty years? Will it be Utopia or a dystopian world?
Some already yearn to go back to the way it was. Too late. The future’s already here.
We don’t go to sleep one night and wake up to an unrecognizable planet the next morning(at least not yet.)
Natural disasters, wars, inventions, diseases, medical discoveries and our responses to these events bring change.
But for the most part, we evolve moment by moment.
So does the culture.
A friend recently introduced me to the concept of “memes.” Memes are similar to genes, but not as scientifically studied.
Memes refer to individual units of human and social behavior and ideas. They’re passed from person to person and culture to culture (similar to a virus.)
People see a behavior and imitate it, maybe alter it by adding their own spin. Like genes, memes replicate, mutate and respond to external pressures.
They’re how the big hair and perms of the eighties evolved into the hairstyles and fashions trending now.
The new language used in our new communication devices — LOL, IMHO, BRB (short for “laughing out loud,” “in my humble opinion” and “be right back”) — are examples of memes and how they work.
They begin slowly, with a few people, and then get passed around and spread until they’re widely recognized and accepted as standard social behaviors.
People have already evolved from using IMHO in emails, texts and posts to using these same “words” (by saying each letter out loud) in live conversation.
IMHO, that’s not conversing; it’s communicating using symbols and grunts. Makes me wonder if we’re evolving or regressing to a prehistoric era.
Communicating Like Robots
I’m not an extremist; not anti-technology. But technology is there to serve us, not the other way around.
We all help create the future by what we do (or don’t) now.
Instead of only checking emails, texts and tweets, we can make time to connect on a less superficial level.
We can learn how to live in both worlds: the world of texts, emails and tweets and the world where people live, learn, work, laugh, cry and talk to each other like we’re real human beings.
Has the wonder disappeared from life, leaving you wondering what’s happened instead? Is fear taking over?
Feeling isolated and alone – disconnected — even with all those online friends and connections?
Use your high-tech devices. Interact with the robotic voices. But we don’t have to be squeezed into (always) communicating like robots.
Talk and listen to one real person each day, even for a few minutes. It might help restore some magic and wonder in the world.
We may be on the verge of discovering life on other planets but we still need to pay attention to the quality of life here.
Can we still talk to each other? Like some might say in my home state of Minnesota: You betcha.
Preserve wildlife and the planet. But don’t let the art and gift of conversation become extinct.
From the desk of…
June 4, 2016
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