Technology Trade-Offs

In a society brimming over with texting, email, internet, Facebook, MySpace, etc., wouldn’t it seem like our communication skills should be vastly advanced? And yet, as I ate dinner Thursday evening in an airport restaurant, it struck me how little communication was truly being shared between various patrons.

Specifically, three different couples and one family of four ate in total silence. One couple engaged briefly by eating food off each other’s plates. For the most part, there was more conversation between them and the waitress than each other. And to make matters more awkward, at least one person at each table was playing with their phone or laptop, rather than interacting with the person at their own table. The couple directly across from me was the most depressing. She simply ate in silence, mostly looking off into space, but her boyfriend/husband constantly looked up at me and smiled. A little creepy, although it was partly my fault for being such a nosey people-watcher, however, it was a flirtatious smile and completely inappropriate. He was obviously easily distracted.

I understand comfortable silence between me and my husband at times. There is a lot to be said to not need conversation, to just enjoy each other’s presence, but this seemed extreme. This felt like an episode in the Twighlight Zone. I half expected people to start getting sucked into a black-hole, their lips melting together so that they could no longer use their voices. Perhaps growing an extra set of hands and fingers in order to multi-text.

Two of my biggest pet peeves are people who don’t look me in the eye when I am talking to them, and people who talk non-stop about themselves. On the flight to Boston, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation between two women sitting directly across the aisle from me. I say conversation loosely because the woman in the window seat never stopped talking, and she was very loud. The poor woman in the aisle seat didn’t seem to say a word, but just smiled politely. They had obviously met on the plane, and the window seat woman was quite content to advertise herself. Communication skills at their finest. Perhaps the ability to create our own personal websites, Facebook pages and blogs has made us numb to each other, made us more self-absorbed and create an inability to be interested in anyone else but ourselves.

The longer I contemplate this post, I can’t help but wonder if maybe communicating isn’t really the issue. Maybe it is our listening skills that need more work. Look around you today in the daily activities that you participate. You’ll be amazed at how many people are talking on the phone in public, texting, or using their laptops but how many people are really connecting and sharing with each other? How many people are listening?

I am just as guilty of sending quick texts and emails rather than pick up the phone. But we miss so much when we can’t hear the inflections in someone’s voice or see their body language. We are out of practice of really being present with one another. I am thankful for the ability to keep in touch with extended family or out-of-town friends, but it was crystal clear how important it is to strengthen or develop our interpersonal skills. We need be sure to continue practicing our verbal communication skills, without distractions or hiding behind technology.

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