It’s no secret that communication has undergone more change in the past 133 years than in the entirety of human history prior to that. The telephone opened up one-to-one communication in a way that altered the relationship slate.
Fast forward to the advent of the cellular phone in the 1980’s and that too altered communication between people. But the cellular phone also changed the dynamic when it came to convenience. The cell caller would be driving or wherever and ring up someone they were thinking about sometimes just to pass the time. It was convenient for the caller but not necessarily for the recipient.
Then in the 1990’s email came into play. People over 35 have been dealing with email for nearly 20 years and while we are all aware of the problems, at least with email you get the opportunity to decide when (and if) you want to respond. Sure SPAM is a pain in the **!! …but it is ok to ignore it as nobody is really sure if you read an email or not (despite the annoying read receipt things that never really seem to work).
More recently (the past ten years) the rise of mobile messaging (see: texting) has exploded along with social networking sites. The immediacy of text messaging is such a powerful medium but it’s not all good. While it is the primary way for me to reach my teenage daughter and for her to reach me (email is so irrelevant to the Millenials) I am finding that friends, (and not necessarily close friends – why did I give them my mobile number in the first place) are sending me text messages and EXPECTING A RESPONSE – IMMEDIATELY!
To boot sometimes I have an exchange with someone I don’t know all that well but I am not quite sure how to end the string. Who ends it? What is the protocol? When is it ok to just stop? These are still my friends and sometimes business associates. I like them. But if I am out at dinner and engaged in a serial text exchange I don’t look at my phone nor would it be polite to whip it out (no Cleavon Little reference here!) and respond. So the communication dies off into the ether. It’s odd.
Then there are the requests from the hinterlands to be a friend to someone you knew 30+ years ago in high school on Facebook. I can ignore some/most of these as there is likely a reason why we have not been in touch for 30 years. However frequently it’s very cool to reconnect with someone you liked that you lost touch with and that’s one of the beauties of social networking. But for most of those the initial reconnect is all that I want. How’s your life worked out? Cool. Maybe we’ll get together sometime despite the fact that you live in Texas and I live in Connecticut. I don’t need much more than that. There just is not enough time in the day to engage 50 people or more in various stages of innocuous conversation. And these are people I know and like (at least for the most part).
There is no real solution. But my overriding thought is that in the past you would think about someone you had not seen or heard from in quite a while and that would be it. Maybe you could send them a letter (remember writing letters?) or try to find their phone number if you even knew where they lived. Now you can quickly and accurately search them in a number of different places, find them and send them a message over a social network and await a response. Don’t be surprised if they ignore it. You can always wonder if they might not have gotten the message at all.
Communications between humans will never again be as it was. Is that progress? I say yes and no. What say you?