Based on experiences over the last year or so, I’ve reached some conclusions about modern culture. You may have reached these conclusions long ago and maybe I’m just that slow, but a series of, by themselves, minor and almost unnoticeable incidents have added up in my brain and grown in frequency to the point that I’m willing to now pass judgment on our culture. We’re losing our ability to communicate.
I won’t run down a litany of examples that have led me to this conclusion (though Lord knows I could) but I will give you two that both happened in the last week. A few days ago I spent the evening walking around the West Village area of Dallas. It was a rather pleasant evening and the locals were out walking their dogs, going to and from the local gym and grocery store or walking back from dinner. This is a very young, largely single neighborhood so most people out, like myself, were alone. I caught a glimpse of a young woman walking out of the gym. She walked down the sidewalk to the cross walk and proceeded to cross the street. What she failed to realize is that there was a car coming. Brakes screeched and the driver narrowly missed hitting this lady who hurried off to the other side of the street, no doubt needing to change her pants. How did this happen? Easy. She was wearing headphones with her head buried in her phone. The driver? Also had his head buried in his phone. How a potential disaster was averted, I don’t know. But as I looked around, I noticed more than 95% of the people out and about were wearing headphones and/or had their eyes focused on their phone. Have you ever watched somebody try to walk a dog while surfing the web on their phone at the same time? It’s a hoot.
The second incident happened yesterday at the grocery store. I was walking down an aisle when I saw a young woman headed right for me… an employee no less who was apparently just getting to work or coming back from a break because she had headphones in her ear, her phone six inches from her nose and no idea what was six inches in front of her feet. The aisle was busy and I had no escape so I stopped, assuming she would see me. I’m a big guy after all. I was wrong. As I realized she was about to walk into me, I stepped aside as best as I could so all she did was bump into my arm. She was slightly embarrassed, quickly apologized and went on her way. The whole time I’m thinking to myself, “I’m 6 foot 5 inches tall and wearing a bright orange t-shirt and this girl still managed to run into me”.
Those are small, trivial examples. On their own, easy to forget and move on from quickly, but are they perhaps symptoms of a greater problem? As a species, we are as connected to other members of our species as any point in history. Through Facebook, Twitter, Skype and any number of resources, we can talk instantly with somebody halfway around the world. We have the internet available at the tips of our thumbs and enough digital music and video to fill several lifetimes. And yet, our face-to-face, one-on-one interactions or the ability to interact, seems to be diminishing rapidly. Stop and compare the number of hours in a day you spend on Facebook, Twitter, texting or the like vs. how much time you spend conversing with a person in your presence.
It seems more and more people are lamenting the lack of customer service now days. Many conclude we simply don’t value or teach good customer service anymore, but I would contend that maybe it’s because we don’t communicate well anymore. The irony being that the internet age has brought about unprecedented connectivity while dumbing down our communications skills. We talk in 140 character chunks or sound like a Facebook status update… “OMG y r u not answrng ur text!!1!”. Part of the reason I started blogging is because it seemed like everything I posted on Facebook or a message board was six paragraphs long. I just recently got on Twitter so I don’t know how to speak in Twenglish and I pray to God I never learn.
One of my Mother’s favorite songs to listen to recently has been Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking” (yes, I’m fortunate to have a Mother with awesome tastes in music). Listen to these words written almost 20 years ago and see if they’re not almost prophetic…
There’s a silence surroundiing me
I can’t seem to think straight
I’ll sit in the corner
No one can bother me
I think I should speak now (why won’t you talk to me)
I can’t seem to speak now (you never talk to me)
My words won’t come out right (what are you thinking)
I feel like I’m drowning (What are you feeling)
I’m feeling weak now (why won’t you talk to me)
But I can’t show my weakness (you never talk to me
I sometimes wonder (what are you thinking)
Where do we go from here (what are you feeling)
It doesn’t have to be like this
All we need to do is make sure we keep talking
Maybe I’m like the grumpy old man sitting on the porch, screaming at the kids to get off his lawn. Maybe this is not a trend but an aberration and if it is a trend, maybe it’s one that humanity will benefit from in the long run. I don’t know, but I can’t help but feel like we’re just starting to lose something… something that makes us special. I’m not at all opposed to Twitter, Facebook, texting, etc… I use them all quite often. But there are times when I cherish a good conversation. A good, long, thought-out discussion between two people who aren’t just usernames or avatars on a computer screen, but two (or more) people who have a more personal connection. I used to have those kinds of conversations quite often. Sometimes sitting next to a fishing pole or around a campfire and other times over dinner or in a living room. I miss those days, but maybe I’m just whining about the kids on my lawn.
Feel free to share your opinions below.
- Tommy K