Monday, March 20, 2006

The (Mis)Communication Age

For a society that lauds itself as being one of instant and mass communication, Americans have poor communication skills. We are surrounded by previously unimagined modes of communication: cellular telephones, fax machines, e-mail, express mail, and the Internet are prevalent and each day becoming more dominant. We are seconds away from communicating with other human beings, but for some reason the more accessible communication becomes, the less able we are to communicate meaningfully with one another.

I’ll begin with the mobile phone. Privacy seems to be a thing of the past. When people are walking down the street, arguing with their phones (or worse, crying into it), they don’t seem to realize that other people will stare. They’ll shoot a dirty look in the direction of an onlooker, as though that individual has no respect for the privacy of folks who decide to air their personal affairs at top volume in the middle of the street. Pardon me, but when I hear someone shouting, “I can’t believe you fucked her!” it is inevitable that I will stop and stare, usually with great amusement.

Another facet of the mobile phone is the absolute mundanity of what people choose to say to one another. In days past, nobody ever needed to know that I was entering Blockbuster, taking a shit, or reading the paper (sometimes the latter two are combined). We seem to have a constant need, nonexistent ten years ago, to know the location of every known individual in our lives, as well as his current activity. We don’t make plans; we just feel the need to occupy someone’s valuable time.

For some, this desire to be in constant touch with everyone else means that they must keep their phones with them and on in settings where quiet or privacy were once expected. It seems that I cannot go to a movie, show, or library without someone’s phone ringing. It becomes truly annoying when the ring is some piece of shit from popular music, as though everyone in the world has a great need to know your taste (or lack thereof) in music. Another irritating asshole is the person who must have his telephone in a restaurant. When I decide to pay for the privilege of having someone else bring the dinner and the wine in order that my wife and I can sit and talk for a few uninterrupted hours, the last thing I need is to hear a phone ring at the next table followed by some loud asshole yelling into his phone that the party on the other line must speak up because he is in a restaurant and is getting poor reception. These people never talk about anything important, anything that couldn’t wait until after dinner, they just babble incessantly about some relatively minor incident. Be forewarned: I do not pay seventy dollars for the privilege of hearing about your pathetic life; and if I hear your phone ring in my proximity, you will soon find out how well that cheap glass of Merlot you ordered compliments the flavor of your Nokia.

I am a big fan of e-mail, however, I believe that it is slowly ruining the ability of individuals to communicate meaning in concise written speech. Corporations have actually had to issue memorandums regarding professionalism in official communication because some of their employees have sunk so far into e-speech that it reflects poorly on the corporate image. Abbreviated words look adolescent. In fact, when u write like this, it makes me :,(. BTW: 8 -> stupid bastard who doesn’t kno ENGL. Briefly translated for those of us who are familiar with and love the English language, that last passage read, “In fact, when you write like this, it makes me cry. By the way: look at the stupid bastard who doesn’t know English.”


CoffeeKate said...

I have also noticed that people are in the gym talking on their cell phone. Besides the fact that they are struggling to talk because they are winded, when they are talking on a machine next to you, there is no escape. Unless of course you have your IPOD, which seems to be the technology device that is really causing a division between common courtesty and blatant disregard. It is impossible to have any sort of personal connection when people are overusing their technology devices and such...

Anonymous said...

My sentiments EXACTLY regarding the cell phone! In fact, I do not own a cell phone partly for thought that if I do, I will somehow morph into one of those, frankly, quite rude individuals. Not that I'm not rude otherwise or don't think cell phones are useful - quite the contrary there have been several times when I'd find them to be handy. But I usually do not need to make calls when I'm out and about, notifying various individuals of my whereabouts, almost like some sort of tracking system. For the most part, I'll make and receive calls at my destination, thank you very much. Have we as a people become so busy that we must constantly be in touch? Can we no longer enjoy a quiet transit? Or is it some sort of new psychological mechanism in this high tech age for feeling important?

As for the email: This is sort of like saying that kids can't add two and two anymore without a calculator. I find that email communication still holds a relatively high degree of formality, at least in my corporation. Not to the degree printed material does, but definitely higher than corporate chat programs. Common shorthand is quite handy while chatting, but with more formal communication, it obviously looks retarded. But in all cases, spelling errors run (sometimes frolic) rampantly across the net and especially in web forums. Man alive, can't people download the free Google toolbar and use the spell checker already?! Sure grammar is more difficult, but at least use the correct words.