What’s Happening to Communication?

What’s happening to personal communication? Will Facebook, Twitter, and texting limit the exchange of complex ideas?

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I read in this morning’s paper that Facebook is aiming to make email obsolete in personal communication. Supposedly we are too busy to exchange long personal email and phone calls. Instead, we will tweet, email, and text short bits, and send all these communications to our Facebook page at the same time in a sort of one-click publishing  communication.

I’m wondering what has happened to thinking and real heart-to-heart or mind-to-mind communication. Must all our thoughts be reduced to 140 characters more or less? Perhaps the ugliness on the political scene is related to posting propaganda and talking points in 30 second sound bites and tweets thrown out at the world to whomever will listen instead of engaging each other in thoughtful face-to-face conversations.

Perhaps we do the same thing in personal conversations with family and friends. We laugh at the Zits comic strip as family members text each other, or text someone else while someone in the same room is attempting to have a conversation. But it really isn’t funny. People are tuning out those who are present in favor of those who are absent.

Supposedly the schools are trying to teach critical  thinking skills, but where do you use them in a Tweet or a Facebook post? Complex thoughts need complex sentences. Have our attention spans become so short we haven’t time for complex thoughts? For more than surface communication? No wonder people  cannot solve problems or reach consensus. It takes more than a few Tweets.

An Afternoon Getting Out the Vote

This afternoon I had my first experience going to my party’s headquarters to make “get-out-the-vote” phone calls. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I reported for duty, I was given one sheet of paper with a short script, and what seemed like a ream (although, in fact, it was only about 20 sheets) of lists of ten voters to call. For every voter there were little ovals to fill in about whether you had gotten through, and, if so, whether you talked to the right person or a machine, or gotten a wrong number. If we talked to someone, we were to ask if he or she could be counted on to vote Tuesday for our candidate, and, if the person answered in the affirmative, we filled in another oval. There were also ovals for negative or undecided answers. Sometimes the sheets had several people in one household listed separately, and one person answered for all or, if in doubt, passed me to the other person. I was also given a cell phone and directed to a table and chair as my “station.”

Now I could never be a telemarketer. It is very hard for me to even think about making calls to people I don’t know that did not call me first. Even though my lists were people who had registered to vote in my party, I still had very cold feet. All the people on my list were in my own town, though I knew only one of them and he wasn’t home. Ironically enough, my husband made calls yesterday to the town we used to live in and actually had someone on his list he knew.

About four other people were scattered around making calls, including my husband. I sat there for a few minutes like a deer with headlights in its eyes. I’d look first at the script sheet, and then at the list, as I tried to make myself believe I could do this thing. I’d listen to the others, and as I saw they were pretty much ignoring the script, I finally took the plunge and made my first call.  I got a machine. I don’t know how long it was before I reached a live person, but I know for those first few calls I spent more time stalling than making the actual call. The first page was slow going for that reason.

It finally dawned on me that if I didn’t pick up my pace I would still be there by nightfall.  I decided I would simply have to pluck my heart from my throat, place it back in my chest, and start tackling that list as though I meant business. About every half hour I’d stop and count the number of sheets I’d finished and the number I had left to go. And it seemed that no matter how many I’d finished, the pile of those left to go didn’t shrink much. In fact, I actually began to believe that the listed reproduced while I was calling. I talked to so many machines I was beginning to feel like a tape recorder mysef, even though I didn’t look at the script and was pretty much making it up as I went along. Finally I got to that last sheet on the pile. And, would you believe, it was the hardest one. There was only one couple — the rest were separate calls. There were a couple of people I needed to talk to, a couple of disconnected numbers, and last of all, a changed number, which when called, was answered by a recording that the person had moved out of state. I left her my final message.

I heaved a sigh of relief and handed in my sheaf of papers — and waited for my husband to finish. He likes to make his calls in a more social setting than I, and had settled into a chair in the midst of other callers and had spent time talking to them between calls. It’s hard for me to make phone calls if anyone is within earshot, and it was hard for me to concentrate being even across the room from the section the other callers occupied and within hearing range of the organizer across the room the other way who was talking to her helper. My husband finally finished his list after there was no one left to talk to, and we started home. Both of us felt emotionally and physically drained, even though we’d lifted nothing heavier than paper, pen, and cell phones. We both kind of wondered if what we did really helps get people out to vote. We hope it is effective. But at least we know we’ve had a part in the process. We voted ourselves absentee last week. And I know I’ll try to be more appreciative than I have been in when volunteers call me from now on.