March 16, 2010 // Uncategorized

Age of communication starts with personal contact

I’m old enough to remember party lines when a handful of people in the neighborhood had to share one common phone line.

Baby boomers remember rotary dials, which are too much of an inconvenience and time drag in today’s punch-a-button world. Long distance calls no longer cost a fortune, which goes a long way toward explaining why one out of every three people you see walking down the street has a cell phone growing out of his ear.
Is there a medical procedure to correct this malady?

We’ve come a long way in the manner in which we communicate. In fact, with all the cell phone calls, e-mails and text messages sent, it would appear that our human interaction is at an all-time high.

Is it really?

We can say sending an e-mail or text message saves time, and that is true if the intended message is clearly understood. But it also depersonalizes the way we communicate. We end up having to send an additional e-mail or text because the interpretation of our message is lost in translation.

Was he being serious or sarcastic, literal or facetious? I couldn’t tell because I didn’t actually hear the person speak or see the facial expressions. Voice intonation counts for a lot when it comes to communication.

I spent two of the last four weeks in two of the most populated cities in the world — New York and Athens, Greece — and let me tell you, cell phones sprouting from the ears is growing in epidemic proportions in such places.
Many people can be heard speaking on their cell phones, but I saw more people either listening to messages or reading text messages as they wandered out into the flow of traffic. The more advanced the BlackBerry or iPhone, the less words are actually spoken.

We used to think someone speaking while walking alone down the street was a crazy person talking to himself. Then you see the Bluetooth headset and realize he/she is talking on the phone.

I saw one man take a seat in a comfortable chair with the look of someone who was about to curl up to a good book. He then pulled out his iPhone, never said a single word, and stared intently at it for the next half hour with his fingers flying around the touch pad at a breakneck pace.

We’re not speaking with one another; we’re speaking at one another.

I guess it’s better than text messaging while driving, which I have to admit I have done on occasion. But I’m trying to cut back, just like I am on my caffeine intake. Both are a detriment to one’s health. It is better to see someone “talking to himself” in a car than it is texting. At least that person’s eyes are on the road, although his mind certainly isn’t on yielding the right of way.

Isn’t technology wonderful? We can communicate anytime, anywhere with anyone for an incredibly affordable price. What once was a luxury has become a necessity. Do you know anyone without some type of cell phone? How did we live without the ability to communicate in an instant with our loved ones? How would I know that we needed a gallon of milk on my way home? I really don’t remember.

We can pay bills from our cell phone, retrieve e-mails, set our DVRs and take pictures/video of the celebrity walking down the street.

We are connected in ways we never could have imagined back in the party-line days. We can even look at and talk to the people we love 5,000 miles away. Remember when people used to say that it’s a small world? Well, it still isn’t small in size, but we’re an outstretched arm from one another technologically.

That’s a good thing, right? The advancement of technology brings us closer together. It makes life more manageable, and weaves a common thread from Shanghai to Sherman Oaks, from Istanbul to Ithaca.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, particularly as my only offspring spends five months more than 5,000 miles away, nothing can or ever will replace talking face to face. Unless you’re face-to-face with a loved one, you can’t look him or her in the eye and really make eye contact. You can’t reach out and put your hand on your son’s shoulder, or give your wife a heartfelt hug.

No matter how advanced our ability to communicate, there will never be any substitute for actually being with a person you love. Technology is awesome, and it keeps us closer to the people who matter the most. But reaching out and touching someone you love really can only be accomplished in person.

So put down your iPhones, stop texting and hug somebody for crying out loud. It beats talking to yourself and walking into the flow of traffic.

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