I often find myself frustrated with the glaring deficiencies in my teen son’s ability to communicate — what he’s saying versus what he means and if he even understands the difference. He says he’ll be somewhere when he needs to be picked up but nowadays I can almost gaurantee he’ll be somewhere else, waiting for me to call to announce that his driver has arrived. His plans with his friends are erratic and sometimes elaborate, constantly changing cluster bombs that make no sense — not even for a teenager. We often play “Who’s On First” because he claims he told me or his mother something I never heard come out of his mouth. I often find him unaware of things that need to be done. His fail-safe claim is that he never got that pertinent voicemail I left or text I sent. Lately, my mustache and goatee has been getting grayer and grayer.
But I really can’t blame him when I sit down and think about it long enough. It’s the thing that can’t be pried from his hand that’s mostly to blame for his, mine and nearly everyone’s often nonsensical way of communicating. The technology of communication — the very lifeblood that drives the words you are reading right now — is the revolution that has made communication and connectivity easier. It is this ever-evolving ecosystem of communications and social that has created massive holes in effective and basic communication. How many times have you heard or said the following:
“Well, I sent him a text.”
“I had my phone on vibrate.”
“I get no reception in my house.”
“I’m on my way. I’m sitting in traffic.” (No, you’re not.)
What makes all of this possible? That handy-dandy smartphone you’re either holding to read this or is within reach beside your computer, right now.
Spending almost 24/7 in social media has transformed the way I process, understand and regurgitate information. Much of it has been positive. My occupation requires that I take in massive amounts of information and turn that around into easy-to-understand terms in a very short period of time. I understand trends and have developed a slight ability to forecast them (even without AT&T’s 4G). I can get to the point of almost conversation thrown at me in under 30 seconds and in turn I can listen to people (no matter how long or short they talk) and pull out the meat of what they are really trying to say or wanted to say in the first place. Because of this I have established myself as a go-to guy during content-strategy meetings.
But there is a dark side: I have developed the attention span of a gnat.
Sometimes I only process what I want to, overlooking what I might actually need to process, missing key conversation points entirely because I stop listening after I hear what I feel I need to. This has led me to create complete and thoughtful arguments that have nothing to do with anything. And much like cable television’s 24-hour news channels, I am almost incapable of powering down unless my body just shuts off wherever I may be — on the couch, at my desk at home, on the floor next to my new dog. Since becoming social full-time I literally have to fight the desire to be connected 24/7.
Social connectivity has also falsified relationships. In this instance I don’t mean the people on your social networks who never were and never will be your friends. But instead the new belief that sending a text is enough to suffice for checking-in on a friend. Gone are the days of one of my homies calling me on a Saturday morning to go for a drive or wanting to catch a flick or chase after girls (okay, marriage more than anything else has played a major factor in this last point). Families and careers aside, we barely lift a finger, because all we really are required to do is lift a finger to type out a super-short note to make sure our friends are still our friends. Most of us figure a weekly, monthly or in some cases quarterly text that says “Hey, what’s up, man?! How’s life?” is good enough.
No, it’s not.
There is nothing like the human touch. Nothing. Outside of maybe a Google+ Hangout which I have yet to try, nothing beats actually hanging out and talking face to face. I’m not going to waste my time writing why. If it isn’t obvious then you may be spending too much time with your face buried in a HD screen, other than a television, either at your desk or in your hand. This article will help explain.
Of course you’re busy! You may have a full time job, or your full time job looking for a full time job. You may be married with kids. But so did everyone else who existed pre-social media (barely ten years ago) and they managed to stay connected in real life. So what was their trick?
There is no trick at all. Way back when, 6 or 7 years ago, you had your word and that was it. There was no bailing on plans ten minutes before you were supposed to be meeting someone. There was no going out on your porch to call to say you are stuck in traffic to mask the fact you haven’t even left your house. You didn’t send a best friend a calendar invite to hang and then expect to be taken seriously or not get cursed out. You didn’t even have a calendar other than the one stuck to your wall with a thumbtack. And if you did follow that calendar you didn’t dare break your appointments for fear of being inconsiderate with someone else’s time.
Text messaging, Twitter. Facebook. iEverything.
Strangely with the rise of connectivity so too has come the fall of accountability. You can even show up late to a job interview (within reason) as long as you call ahead. Please don’t test this, but I do know from experience that this works. Your original word doesn’t matter at all as long as you send an updated text or a email from your mobile. And it’s on that other person if they didn’t read it because they were waiting for you at a swimming pool or had already turned their phone off because the orchestra was beginning to play.
As adults, many of us are coming to realize we’ve lost the ability to have sensible conversations and making strides to reverse the behavior, if only on a personal level. But most of our children have no point of reference to do this. And if you don’t have kids you might be thinking this doesn’t apply to you. Well it does if you consider that that other person’s child is going to be a part of the next generation of leaders (or worse) in society. Can you imagine a society of zero accountability and broken promises? Well, you might, if you believe this culture exists now. But can you imagine it getting worse?
It Doesn’t Have to Stay This Way
I’m not asking you to change the world. But I am challenging you to actually answer the phone the next time a friend calls, rather than dreading the ring and responding with a text. I am challenging you to make plans with the people you know and love and get there early, whether they show up on time or not. I am challenging you to make the time to make plans with someone, professionally or personally and talk, face to face. And especially with your kids. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t let your devices do all your talking for you. Especially when dealing with your spouse and your children.