The Communication Conundrum
Who would ever have thought that we would see so much gadgetry in our lifetimes? Actually, it's probably more difficult to believe that any of us who enjoyed science fiction books, movies, and television programs over the past 80 years didn't expect technological breakthroughs that would make some mundane aspects of our lives easier or more fun. Grandpa and Grandma Hiduk loved to watch Mission Impossible on Saturday nights. If they were alive today, I don't think that they would have been surprised by home computers, cell phones, and electronic banking, I just don't think that they would have cared much to use them. They would be among the type of people who walk in the front door of the Rocket-Courier every day to drop off a photo or dictate to Amber something that they would like to run in a classified or Happy Ad, rather than just phoning or sending an email.
I was told to expect drop-ins, as my office is just off the front entrance. And, though I don’t have the time to shift my rolling chair to the left and see the face that accompanies every voice, I still find the experience to be charming and fascinating at the same time, because those front office visitors represent the extreme opposite of my friends, family members, and coworkers who seem at times—to me—to be too connected and too dependent on technology for communication.
This is a column that I have started at least three times, only to catch myself rambling or trying to pit two or more forms of communication against each other in what I have come to regard as a futile attempt. So, if you are looking for the short read, you can stop at the end of this paragraph. I'm convinced that nothing competes in depth, emotional intent, and sincerity than speaking face-to-face. To be able to gauge the facial expressions and body language and to share the environment in which the message is being conveyed is to experience valid communication. Who can dispute that?
But what of the myriad of alternative ways available to us today to stay in touch with and communicate with each other, such as cell phones, email, texting, Facebook, photo sharing sites, and Skype? Are those of us who are born communicators (i.e.—those of us who don't know when to stop communicating) wrong for thinking that, with all of the choices out there, everybody should be able to choose at least one medium that suits both his or her communicative needs and personality? Are the techies and gadgeteers among us wrong for thinking that we "born communicators" should assimilate to every form of technology that has been developed so that we can reach our ultra-communicative potentials? Are the readers of this paper who still have only a land-line telephone (a term that was non-existent when they got it) and no internet service wrong for thinking that there was never a need for so much technology?
Not only do I not believe that any of the aforementioned attitudes about technology are off-base, I'm becoming more convinced over time that the variety of communication networks and hardware possibilities have fostered an "I can deal with technology at my own pace and interest" sentiment. It has come down to a conflict between "Come on, it's so cool" and "You can't make me." It has always been and always will remain a matter of choice.
I hand-wrote letters far longer than most of my friends and relatives. I continued to send letters, along with photos, and newspaper or magazine clippings well into the early years of this century. Even then, I knew that I was the odd-man-out. My friends and siblings would call me to thank me for what I had sent to them, comment on same, and then say, "You know that I'm not a letter writer." I'd always say, "I don't care," but I was lying. I was already lamenting the fact that mailing a package of cheer to a friend or relative was becoming obsolete. I think that I continued it for as long as I did to try to save it as a social art form.
I also printed my own photos on a regular basis and realized that the 4-by-6-inch prints were the same size as post cards, so I started slapping stamps on them and plopping them into the mail. They were way cheaper to send than letters. A few years and 100 photo post cards later, I was told, "You know, people used to do this in the early 1900's. These will be rare some day." Rare? Really?
This time I was guilty of trying to revive a dead social art. It took me three years to realize that nobody ever sent a real photo post card back to me. They just thanked me when we met again for the great pic and assured me that it was hanging on the fridge, which is true – I've seen a number of them.
I enjoyed email for a while, but that too has become more or less passe as a form of personal communication. It is still viable however for professional use, and I have found it to be an effective tool for interviewing or retrieving statements and comments from movers and shakers who are constantly on the go.
Not only do less people maintain land-lines anymore, it seems that fewer people actually sit down for a relaxed phone conversation. I am not a fan of cell phone-to-cell phone calls. It always seems as if one or both people are in motion, which causes the signal to fluctuate. Since cell phones are essentially modern, glorified versions of two-way radios, it’s too easy to cut each other off mid-sentence, which—for me—creates anxiety and a perception of unintended emotions. I don’t care what Sprint says, I cannot hear a pin drop. Instead, I hear the louder elements of background noise at the other end of the call jumping into the conversation.
I currently prefer texting, even though it is viewed by some as a cold form of communication (with or without emoticons). I like the idea of being able to send a text that more or less says, “I’m thinking of you,” a sentiment that doesn’t always require interrupting someone’s dinner with a phone call. Sometimes, I don’t necessarily want to have a full-fledged conversation. I really just want to say, “I’m thinking of you.” There’s no need to retrieve the text in short order, nor is there an obligation to reply immediately.
I continue to use all of the aforementioned forms of communication in whatever doses I deem necessary or appropriate to maintain contact with the people I love and those with whom I work on a professional level.
Then along came smart phones, iPhones, Facebook, and Skype—none of which I care to make time for. Unfortunately, that frustrates a number of people who have embraced communication technologies as gifts from God. A good friend from Lancaster County more or less told me that we’re probably going to fall out of touch with each other since I moved because I’m not set up to Skype, which is how she stays in touch with her family. I’m tired of being asked why I am not on Facebook, which I avoid like the plague. I’m not yet convinced that it’s not a government-sanctioned, Big Brother-like plot to keep tabs on me.
For now, I’m going to continue writing and speaking, both of which I do cherish as gifts from God, as my key forms of communication. I believe them to be both efficient and sufficient. I don’t need excess technology to be your friend. By the same token, I am also learning to accept the fact that I will never be able to send a text to my mother or an email to my father and stepmother. As adults, they have observed the options and are comfortable with the limits they have placed on themselves when it comes to communication.
By the same token, I feel that it's still just as important as ever to visit, call, email, text, or send a card to your parents and siblings on a regular basis. As for your neighbors, don't "friend" them on Facebook if you don't also step up onto their porch or walk over to the fence once a week to ask how they are doing and share a little bit about yourself with them. At the very least, let’s try to maintain some warmth in our efforts to communicate, no matter what method we are using.
Feel free to email me with your thoughts on this topic. If I get enough responses, I’ll revisit this topic in the future.