The Communication Revolution: Breaking Down Barriers or Building Them?

It was a typical Friday night; families, teenagers and young couples were out in their droves and as I sat down with a friend to enjoy a meal and conversation, there were two couples next to us who caught my eye. A double date it seemed ….how sweet.

Except instead of engaging in flirtatious glances with one another or witty banter, their faces were cast downward, alight with the blue glow of their mobile phones. Each of them engaged in either a phone call, a text, an Instant Message, or Facebook post, punctuating any real attempts at a face-to-face conversation.

It struck me how far removed we’ve become from each other. With all the wonderful benefits of communication literally at our fingertips today, we’re obviously doing a lot more of it, but is it meaningful? Are we really connecting or simply giving the illusion?

Technology’s relationship with communication has grown exponentially and while we’re all happy to jump on board the communication revolution, it’s moving at some pace. Is the Medium actually becoming the message and we’re just not listening?

The availability of communication mediums for us, the masses, means we’re no longer simply receiving information passively. We ALL are very much a part of the revolution. We have an opportunity to ‘reply’, ‘comment’, ‘tweet’ or ‘message’ one another, making our voices heard, breaking down social, cultural and even geographic barriers that once existed.

With a plethora of platforms at our disposal; the text with its emojis, e-mail on the go, sound-bites on Twitter, Comments online, we can connect instantly with not just our friends but interact and even develop supposed relationships with celebrities, politicians, activists, community groups in very immediate and accessible ways, making us feel like our opinions and ideas matter. Like we matter.

No wonder we’re hooked on The Revolution; it truly is for the people.

But just how meaningful are these connections? We are certainly communicating more than ever before, but are we really breaking down barriers or building them?

As the mode becomes more varied, our messages are open to manipulation, meaning can be misconstrued and the true worth of what we have to say, misplaced amongst the scatterings on offer in our inbox, each hour of everyday.

We’re constantly distracted, unable to delve into deep interactions and it’s changing our world in worrying ways. Social researcher Hugh Mackay believes ‘The Good Life’ is all about our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in meaningful ways.

In this age of consumerism, communication feels like just another medium we are happy to exploit, inevitably driving down its value and potential purpose to form meaningful connections. We seem quite happy to use and abuse without really understanding the implications for us on a personal and societal level.

Opinions once private, now are all too easily aired. The fact that one can sit behind a screen, often in anonymity, and project in words what they really think, without having to witness the reaction it causes to the recipient, has given rise to a new form of torment; cyber-bullying and trolling.

There is no need to feel uncomfortable about such interactions when we don’t actually have to be a part of it. The appeal with these types of communication means the ‘hard work’ of actually engaging in meaningful, emotional, sometimes difficult conversations, is a thing of the past.

Recent studies show us that teens today who we born only knowing communication technologies have never had the opportunity to experience and develop vital inter-personal skills, unlike generations before. Developmental psychologists such as Sherry Turkle have identified the importance of face-to-face communication in helping children and teenagers to develop other essential skills, including reasoning, self-reflection and empathy.

A real life conversation with another person involves both parties having to take in a range of emotional and bodily cues, such as tone and expression. According to Turkle, in sending a text “the complexity and messiness of human communication gets short-changed. Those things are what lead to better relationships.”

With a brief text or short e-mail, the lack of face-to-face contact means the subtleties and nuances of our interactions, which we rely so much on to gain greater connections and meaning, are lost. There is such a thing as too much and while we seem to be engaged in almost excessive amounts of communication, the quality of that communication appears to be compromised.

Either way, as our world continues to develop and the barrage of information increases, we need more than ever before to feel connected, to communicate but in meaningful ways. Otherwise we’ll end up letting those superficial forms of communication dictate who we are and the kind of society we become.

If communication sage Marshall McLuhan was right and ‘the medium is the message’, then in our increasingly interconnected world, we run the risk of feeling more disconnected.

What matters most is our relationships and real, meaningful communication is the key to keeping them and society in turn, intact.

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5 Ingredients for a Life of Satisfaction

Happiness. We all want it, need it, crave it and maybe even see it as our life’s quest.

But what if the pursuit of happiness was a flawed concept? What if instead we aimed for the more reasonable, more attainable pursuit of satisfaction?

How dull I hear you mumble! And you may be right. Satisfaction just doesn’t have the same ‘bells and whistles’ about it that happiness does (although Mick Jagger made the idea of ‘satisfaction’ sound pretty cool).

So let’s imagine then that we buckled up and pursued satisfaction with gusto and verve, instead of the sparkling happiness. What would we need to do or be to help us attain satisfaction in our lives and be happy with that.  

Over the ages, many a great philosopher has pondered over this; what makes a ‘good’ life, starting with Plato in the 4th Century BC.

In fact it’s only been in more recent times, since the Romantic period of the 18th Century, that visions of a greater happiness in life should seem to be one’s life goal.

In his book ‘The Good Life’ Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay expresses concern that western society has this unreasonable belief that “happiness is our birth right… and perfection is a possibility.” Is he on to something?

Likewise the very stoic ancient Roman philosopher Seneca argued that “we will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful”. Maybe aiming too high is setting ourselves up for failure?

Human Flourishing

A satisfactory place to start is with the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle and his term ‘Eudaimonia’.

This wonderful Greek term is commonly mistranslated as ‘happiness’, when in fact it more accurately means human flourishing. He labelled ‘Eudaimonia’ as the goal of human thought and action.

His brand of human flourishing involved “living in accordance with reason, fulfilling one’s sense of purpose, doing one’s civic duty, living virtuously, being fully engaged with the world and in particular, experiencing the richness of human love and friendship” (Mackay, p.54)

While there is a lot there, thoughout the ages many great thinkers have offered up a range of ingredients for what possibly makes for a ‘good’, satisfying, flourishing life.

Here their reoccurring themes provide us with 5 ingredients for a life of satisfaction.

  1. Relationships

They help shape who we are, bring us comfort and companionship and ultimately a reason for existing. According to contemporary philosopher A.C Graying, fostering good relationships through kindness and consideration, are central to what constitutes the meaning of our life.

Ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus too tells us that simple pleasures such as those of conversations with friends, along with freedom and thought, are key to a ‘pleasant’ life.

“Of all the means which wisdom acquires to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is friendship.” Epicurus

2. Thought and Reason

The ability to not only think, but more importantly to reason is a virtue most of us are still grappling with. Emotions trump rationality far more often than not (yep my hand is up).

But as Allain de Botton tells us, if we get a wrangle hold of those emotions, using practical intelligence and experience, we become empowered creatures. Now that’s satisfying on two fronts.

3. Moral virtue

To have a satisfying life we need to know we can and do ‘good’ or right things. But we’re not perfect all the time.

Here again the Greeks give us comfort. They saw moral failings simply as ‘bad shots’. The solution to missing the target is simply to try again and do better next time.

Hugh Mackay also offers some direction in our search for a morally ‘good life’ by suggesting we should try to relinquish our many notions of ‘I’ and instead think of ‘we’. A life devoted to others for the common good, leads to satisfaction over and above personal gains.

4. Mindset

It goes without saying that our mood or mindset can have immense sway over our attitude and behaviour, the way we see our experiences and those around us. So happiness or a personally satisfying life needs an enduring mood or mindset and a capacity for self-government (Grayling, p.281).

Nietzsche the German philosopher also tells us that the secret of a fulfilled life is to‘ live dangerously’. Maybe we could take that to mean more than the literal and to think courageously and believe in ourselves as well.

5. Action (in training)

The original cynic Antisthenes believed that through rigorous training, happiness could be achieved. Hugh Mackay too seems to subscribe to this view when he suggests what leads to the deepest sense of satisfaction is self-respect, based on self-control and self-discipline (p.26).

Viktor Frankl famously wrote in his seminal work, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’  “It is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

Ultimately it is our choices and actions on a day-to-day scale that define how meaningful our life might be. Give life a ‘good’ go, learn from the ‘bad shots’ and a satisfying life could well just be the more worthwhile quest.

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