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.