By Jean Foster Akin
A lot of people now talk about (or actually, more often, blog about, email about, text about, post about) their ability to communicate instantly with people all over the world due to amazing leaps in technology over the last 20 years—and especially in the last few. I am experiencing this wonder of technology now myself as I have four delightful friends (only one whom I have ever met face-to-face), sharing ownership of a blog we’ve developed as a writing cooperative. I am delighted by the fact that these women are in my life, and I know that we are far enough away from each other that without the Internet we would never have “met,” but I still have to question if communication technology causes us, as a culture, to communicate less. It has certainly encouraged us to communicate less deeply than we did in the past.
FACETS OF COMMUNICATION
There are many facets of communication we experience when we’re conversing with others, some conscious and many unconscious: eye contact, facial expression, timbre of voice, body language—even scent. And, of these, there are sub-categories just as important for true communication. For instance, think of the way people use their eyes. They look at you directly, or their eyes wander, or their eyes shift. Each means something different, but only when combined with other aspects of the face, body, voice. Pupils can be dilated or constricted, the lids wide open or half-mast. And depending on the curve of the lips, the tension (or lack thereof ) in the cheeks and forehead, the tilt of the head, the accompanying movement of shoulders and hands, the tone or volume of voice, the set of the teeth, those lightning flashes of emotion that are there and then gone (we can cover these up in a fraction of a second, but we cannot control their arrival), the face-watcher (or “receiver”) will consciously and subconsciously decipher the message the “sender” is putting across. Much can be missed if the watcher looks down to pour cream into his coffee: how much more does he miss by relegating “friendships” to email and texting and Facebook and Twitter?
ILLNESS and DEPRESSION MORE COMMON in the SOCIALLY ISOLATED INDIVIDUAL
We’re awfully dependent on communication technology for social interaction. Okay, so we aren’t living in the The Matrix, being used as energy sources for the computers, dreaming that we are “living life” when, in fact, we are encased in womb-like pods where our energy is harvested by the machines while we sleep. In the real world, we can “unplug” from technology when we tire of it, and not be chased down by Agent Smith, determined to either force us back into the Matrix or to “delete” us permanently from the program. But this doesn’t mean we aren’t in trouble. In fact, research continues to suggest quite strongly that those among us who spend hours a day on computers and other types of technology, and who rarely interact with other humans (face-to-face, either one-on-one or in groups), are more often sick than those with healthy, active, social lives. Studies also tell us that socially isolated people are more depressed than others, and do not recover as quickly from illnesses.
How many people wander along in a great, colorful, musical sea of humanity, ignoring everyone while wildly tapping at iPhone keypads or the screens of their iPads? How many people encase themselves in mental cocoons as they poke in earbuds and turn up the Shuffle, or ignore their children while prattling into the Bluetooth thingamabobbies jammed into their ears? This is not living folks. It just isn’t.
TO SUM IT ALL UP
Many people are making their families and friends lonelier through their inordinate love of “communication” technology. People feel more isolated now and yet people are less willing to actually sit down and look into the eyes of those they say they love because they would rather “communicate” with “friends” on the computer. I believe people feel more inconvenienced now when someone asks to get together for a coffee; the thought of actually sharing a meal with other people is more an irritation than a delightful anticipation for many people because they waste so much time on the computer, they are always playing catch-up, trying to get done the things they should have already gotten done—and that means people coming along looking for a coffee-date have to come second…or third…or tenth. Because of all these misuses of technology, people (both the keyboard tappers as well as those living, breathing people they ignore) are sicker and more depressed than ever.
It is so much more rewarding to be a friend, a real, live, smiling-crying-chuckling-singing-talking friend, and to allow someone else to be your friend, to hear the vibration of his voice rumbling over your walls, and to feel the warmth of her arm over your shoulder. Oh the joy of really talking to someone, of knowing someone enough to really help, of loving someone enough to really listen, of spending time enough to know the color of their eyes…
“Agent Smith” photos by Steve Tytko
Handsome “Agent Smith” Model: Kevin J. Foster
Group photo taken by Jean F. Akin