You can ring my bell
February 26, 2014 § 7 Comments
I committed a revolutionary act last night. It was my aunt’s birthday, so I picked up the phone and called her.
I didn’t text her first to see if she was available or not, I just called. And on a landline too. She was home, she wasn’t busy, so she answered, and was utterly delighted to hear from me. And given that she’s one of the warmest, sweetest people I know, I was delighted to hear her voice too.
It doesn’t sound like a revolutionary act, does it? And yet, talk to the digitally savvy about Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that WhatsApp will soon carry voice calls as an option and they throw up their hands in dismay. “Does anyone even talk on the phone anymore?” they lament.
That saddens me. The irony in a world that is increasingly dominated by so-called social media, is that we are becoming less and less social. We don’t talk anymore – we text. We spend more time looking at our phones than we do other people’s eyes. (Mea culpa.) And we hardly ever pick up the phone and just call someone to see how they are, tell them we love them, or tell them some news, however trivial it may seem.
In an age when we have all of the communication tools possible available to us, it seems we communicate less and less.
I watch so-called ‘twars’ unfolding on Twitter all the time – they’re hard to avoid unless you only follow quote-spewing accounts. And it’s fascinating to me how often people are saying very similar things, yet they think they’re disagreeing with each other. Chances are, if they were having the same discussion over a meal, or opposite each other in someone’s living room, they’d be agreeing heartily .
Because you see, communication is more than just the words we say or write. And if we’re using Twitter as an example, even the most skilled writers battle to convey their thoughts in a 140-character limit. When we communicate in the written word alone, we are losing out on the auditory cues we pick up from people’s tone of voice, and the visual cues we read from their body language. This makes the ‘social’ part of social media a complete misnomer, and it’s what makes writing so difficult – you only have a third of the communication arsenal at your disposal.
I’ve been a journalist for 20-odd years (gulp) and I still don’t record my interviews. I take notes when I interview people, and to date – touch wood – I have been accused of misquoting somebody once. And that was the one time I had recorded the interview and transcribed it. I quoted the person verbatim, yet she disagreed vehemently with the quote I ascribed to her in the article. Why? Because I had quoted what she said, not what she meant. Body language and voice add layers of meaning that just don’t come through if you simply write down the words.
So this reliance on text to communicate worries me enormously. I fear we are losing our social skills completely. It’s all too easy to bully online – for adults and children. In an online forum, you don’t get the same feedback you’d get from someone if you said those insulting things directly to their face . So it’s easy to dismiss the hurt you might be causing. It’s the most cowardly form of bullying there is, I think.
Or I watch my teenage daughter and her friends with growing concern. They will text each other merrily for hours on end, but put them in a room together, and they don’t know how to have a conversation, or just to hang out together. They are 15 years old and they don’t know how to talk to each other. Within 15 minutes, they are taking photos of each other on their phones and sharing them on social media.
I worry that we are becoming, and raising, a generation of people with no social skills – and not in the ‘which fork to use at dinner’ sense – but in the sense of not having the ability to read another human being from their body language, tone of voice and general demeanour. Yes, we have inbuilt instincts, but a lot of that ability comes from practice. Life is a lot like a big poker game, and it’s important to be able to read the other players so you can decide which cards to play.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop being someone who loves to have a chat over the phone or over a cup of coffee. I don’t see conversation with other human beings – whether for work, play or duty – as an intrusion or a waste of time. I don’t need you to text before you call me, or apologise for disturbing me. Because if I was unable or unwilling to talk to you, I wouldn’t answer. It’s as simple as that.
And I have some wonderful ‘chats’ with people on BBM and SMS and WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter. But I love to hear the sound of their voices too. There’s nothing I love more. And if I can’t see you in person, I’m happy to settle for hearing your voice. That’s two-thirds of the way to being with someone, which is always first prize.
So at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, if you have something to say, step away from the keyboard. Call me!