The Age of Ill-Communication

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

Folks… we have a problem.

I think it may pretty much be met without argument that life, with all its various things to pull one’s focus, has only one truly important element to it: The relationships we develop with other people.

One might even say: “Love.”

So why are we settling for its inevitable deterioration?

Fifteen to twenty years ago, we had phones that worked. We could carry on conversations for hours with our best friend, and we actually did. We did this without interruption, having to guess at what they were saying through dropped words and static and without having to repeat or start over due to losing calls all together. We weren’t yelling at people through speaker phones or bluetooth. We could make this call from any room in our house. There were no issues with poor reception.

We used to actually look forward to phone calls. We now detest getting on the phone with someone, because it’s too dang difficult.

So we’ve settled for texting… It’s become a way of life: sending those we care about misspelled and misinterpreted, nearly cryptic messages when we feel the whim. Personally, I find texting to be the most inefficient way to have a conversation man could have come up with, next to smoke signals… yet this is the “communication of the future”?

This is how men want to introduce themselves to me and get to know me — in two sentence segments with no inflection, no connection or sense of whether there’s chemistry? This is how friends want to talk about life experiences — Have they really become only a sentence or two deep?

Years ago we wrote letters. Most have a box tucked away full of those handwritten masterpieces one person would take the time to scribble out to another, and it’d likely be one of the things they’d grab if they had to leave their house in a fire. Because letters from old loves, old friends, family that has passed — they’re priceless.

Sharing stories mattered. Sharing feelings mattered. Taking the time to develop that quality connection mattered.

Today we settle for sharing the tiny, often unnecessary details of our lives on Facebook. The need to pick up the phone or meet over coffee with a close friend is dwindling, replaced by the feeling that we’ve somehow connected and made our “friendship quota” for that day by getting a couple “Likes” or funny comments on our “status update”.

Often times it’s people we haven’t spoken to in years who notice our posts, while those who really matter aren’t online to see. We have this delusional connection to this imaginary audience… and our real connections are fading away.

And the workplace? Think of how often we have relationships with clients or support people via email, treating them like a robot that just needs to do their job at the other end of the line. Think of how many “dysfunctional robots” you encounter, as people rush through emails, skip over important answers, send back the equivalent of nonsense, and misread or neglect to read important things.

Then, maybe after years of working like this, you find cause to meet. And it’s… shocking. They’re always quite different that you’ve imagined, if you’ve thought to imagine them, at all. They may be personable, funny, smart and quite-clear in person.

We used to set aside time to celebrate birthdays. We had the days written on our calendars, circled, so that we would remember to make a phone call or throw a bit of a hoopla.

Proven in my friend’s recent “social experiment”, carrying out a decision to remove his birthday from Facebook, a mere four people reached out to him on his day. Apparently, if we can’t send a five-second, “Happy Birthday! Hope it’s great!” we can’t remember to send anything at all.

The most direly important fact of life: love — it’s fallen prey to pointless television shows watched one after another, staring at the internet: visiting the same three or four sites over and over, waiting for that empty electronic communication and the thrill of our false-felt connection to the world.

So… a challenge I’m posting to myself this month, and anyone may join. I’m going to make a concerted effort to connect with an important friend at least once a day. I’m going to call them using a landline, even though it costs extra. I’m going to send letters. Send gifts. I’m going to set up outings. And, instead of zoning out into tv and online games and Facebook and all the things I’m so guilty of, I’m going to focus my thoughts on my friends and what they may be needing, making sure to not let these connections take second place to the fifth “Progressive Insurance” commercial I’ve seen that day.

We all need to check ourselves. And we all need to get back to spending our time on what’s truly important.

Life is too dang short.


4 thoughts on “The Age of Ill-Communication

  1. Amen. As you know, I am also “checking out” of our tendencies towards ease or insincerity. If you are a friend of mine, you’ll know how much I value you.

  2. Coincidence? The beginning of my week started with my telling a “web-met” friend who at first, weeks ago, i said I’m not quite comfortable with the phone when he asked to talk. I told him days ago, that i will no longer get into conversations via text with him. It’s a personal goal and I will just need to make this change, person by person. Otherwise, I’d be in the phone 10 hours a day. My Thanksgiving night ended with a 3.5 hour phone conversation with a different friend. It was a nastaligic feeling I look forward to having again and again until the nastalga wears off and it’s my common practice. Good to know at least you don’t think I’m crazy. Otherwise, we’d both be the only ones using the phone to “talk.”

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