Thursday, May 5, 2011
Communication divide in the digital world
We live in arguably the most connected world ever - at least in terms of technology and opportunity. At no other time in history has it been so easy, so cost effective to exchange substantial and meaningful contact with anyone, almost anywhere on the planet. And yet, interpersonal communication and, dare I say it, basic respect and not-so-common courtesy, seem to be taking a massive beating.
Think back to the time before mobile phones, before email, the internet and oh...let's go even before the infamous Mr Bell invented the telephone. If I wanted to send a message to my beloved who was some distance away, I'd have to pull out the writing desk and pen a letter. Yes, an actual paper letter. I'd pay for the postage on it, and some weeks (or possibly even months!) later, it would arrive at it's destination. My letter would probably be received with much gusto, and replied to forthwith - again with that irritating effort of finding paper and writing implements, with all the expense of the postal service for delivery. Indeed, it would have been that very effort that made the recipient regard my words with that much more value, that they knew the effort I had gone to in order to impart them.
Flash forward, and that same message is typed on my QWERTY keyboard over a morning latte and bounced almost instantly around a vast computer network, to land in my recipient's virtual inbox. Where, mostly, they read it and close it, without ascribing too much value or importance. Or I ring their mobile phone and leave a voice mail, asking for a call back. Perhaps my message made them smile and they think "I'll reply in a minute". Maybe they were touched. Or sad. Or angry. Perhaps, they even understood the emotional effort in transcribing thoughts and feelings to email and committing them to the ether. But oftentimes, we never know, because then..."busy" happens.
"Busy", it should be noted is a very different thing from busy. "Busy" is what happens when we receive a communication from someone important to us, make a mental note to reply and then don't. It's the "I have time to browse Facebook, but not send you a text back". In a society where communication is so easy, so cheap...the communication efforts of our loved ones have started to have so little value to us, that we don't bother to "take the time" to reply, even though that is a much less cumbersome task than it ever was before.
I'm not just pointing a finger here. I'm guilty of "busy". I know every one of us, at some time, has been guilty of "busy". But we need to stop. We need to start recognising that no matter how cheap and physically easy the means of communication was, the emotional effort of putting oneself on the line, of reaching out to someone, is worthy of being met. We need to stop making excuses for why we can't and make the effort to ensure we do. In short, we need to start respecting the people communicating with us enough, to dignify them with a response. Any response. Even if you know you can't do justice to a "proper" response, just taking the time to say "I got your message and I can't give you a good answer right now, I'll get back to you" - providing that you do actually follow up - is better than leaving someone out to dry in the no-man's land of lack of response.
It used to be called "manners". Now, it seems to be "going above and beyond". I'd like to get back to the basics of common courtesy. So, this is my open invitation to you - pull me up on it if I get "busy" with your messages. And I'll ensure that I apologise and answer you, without giving you the excuses about how "busy" I was.