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July 1, 2007
Lack of Communication
The iPhone has had its successful debut with long lines and huge hoopla. This latest little miracle of advanced technological engineering takes all of the popular hi-tech gadgets in the marketplace and combines them into one sexy little package.
Well done, Apple.
What the iPhone does not do is to actually improve human communication. You still get a telephone tree at the other end of the call. As the methods of communication have improved, the ability to contact the intended recipient of the call has decreased.
There was a time, not too long ago, when if you cranked (yes) your phone, you got an operator right there in your own home town. When the callee answered, after the operator rang them, so did several other folks on your party line. They knew the call was not for them because each phone had a distinctive ring, 1 long 2 short, or some other combination -- but they wanted to find out what was going on. Phone calls were usually short as callers were not anxious to share more of their business with the neighbors than they already had.
Today, the aisles of grocery stores are filled with people chatting on their cell phones, sharing their romantic lives, financial affairs or family relations with anyone who cares to listen.
Now we have voice-mail. (The Brits call it ‘answer phone', a more accurate name).The phone rings a specified number of times and then the phone answers. In the beginning, people left a careful message for the times when they would be away from home. Before long, they discovered that this convenience meant they would no longer have to answer the phone at all, unless it was someone they really wanted to speak to. Calls to which they did not wish to respond simply vanished most conveniently.
This has complicated the lives of telephone solicitors who do not leave messages that go unanswered; but relieved those who do not wish to be solicited.
In one sense, life has become simpler and more pleasant for the callee. They don't have to talk to you at all. But for the caller - there is a problem.
In spite of these advances in technology, the human mind has not quite caught up. Few people have mastered the art of leaving a clear voice-mail message. ‘It's John, mmmph, gotta talk to you, snuffle, mmmph, have to take my car in now.' (And you called because?) Or even more likely: ‘It's me. I'll pick you up at 2:00. Eleanor can't wait to see you.' (I don't know anyone named Eleanor).
Irritation about telephone trees increases exponentially with the length and complication of the tree, and with the ability -- or lack thereof -- of actually speaking to a human being. Often the choices offered on the tree seem unrelated to your purpose in calling. Recently I have encountered Doctors' offices that offer only the opportunity to leave a voice mail or "if it is a medical emergency, hang-up and call 911." But from the comments I have heard in ordinary conversation, I need dwell on telephone trees no longer. You have been there and done that.
E-mail ranks right up there with voice-mail as an easily ignored form of communication. Those ‘Delete' and ‘Erase' buttons are a tempting way to remove complications from your life. They are completely impersonal so there isn't the moderating influence of manners as there is in ordinary conversation. And the recipient of the message can easily claim that they didn't receive it or that they forgot, for if it was really important you will surely try again.
Most of my friends have computers, but not many of them communicate regularly by e-mail. Often people are reluctant to write, for they are uncomfortable at writing. This could also explain the proliferation of Christmas messages that are largely photos of family and pets. And the conversations on Monday morning that are largely composed of lines from TV shows of the night before.
The younger generation, on the other hand, uses instant messaging communication extensively, and has developed a language of abbreviations and emoticons especially for text messaging. If not exactly a new language, it can be a bit bewildering to adults who are trying to protect their children online. LOL - laughing out loud, MYOB - mind your own business, are probably familiar abbreviations.
Other terms such as: POS -parent over shoulder, LGH - lets get high, PAL -parents are listening, TDTM - talk dirty to me, or KPC - keeping parents clueless, may be of more concern. For a complete dictionary, Google ‘text messaging'.
Writing is learned simply by doing it. The more you write, the better you get at it. The business of writing, as Richard Mitchell once remarked, is to stay put on the page so you can look at it later and see where you have been stupid.
If you write well, you are apt to communicate well. If you can write a clear, concise e-mail, you can probably leave a clear voice-mail message. If you can be clear in short messages, you can probably be clear in your conversations, reports and speeches. And in communicating with your family.
If you can communicate clearly, you are well on your way to improving the world.