Today, there are more modes of communication than ever before, the large majority of which require no actual interpersonal contact. We chat, Snap, Whatsapp, text – real emotions are eschewed for reductive emojis, and we as a culture begun to underrate the benefits of speaking to other people face-to-face and taking time to absorb information. This abundance of technology is preventing us from being able to hold a conversation of real substance.
In order to gain some perspective, it is important to step back a bit and analyse the changing nature of communication in the past century. Letter writing used to be commonplace – people would write pages upon pages to their loved ones who were abroad or otherwise outside their near vicinity.
Subsequently, the telegraph was invented, and messages could be sent back and forth more quickly than by post, but with limited characters. Because of the word limit, people would only send the most urgent messages in this fashion. Rushing past the telephone, cell phone, and ill-fated videophone, we arrive at the internet, comprised of nothing but different means of ‘sharing’ information: email, Facebook messages, tweets, Instagram, and more.
Everyone is constantly accessible: contacting friends and family is easier and quicker, and our mes- sages and conversations are growing shorter with every new development. Horrific abbreviations are normalized through cell phone messages, and today’s teenagers, too busy to write in proper languages, are prone to saying ‘nbd,’ ‘ttyl,’ or the notorious ‘yolo’ on a pretty regular basis. This demon- strates our need to shorten and simplify all aspects of our conversations. People now value efficiency and the ability to multi-task over performing qualitative work.
The diversification of our methods of communication has another deleterious effect; not only have we stopped saying full sentences, we have grown tired of reading them. People now desire quicker responses and so dedicate less time to gathering information. We would rather gather many small bits of information about multiple topics than dedicate time to learning about one topic in detail. People rarely read past the headlines of most news articles, a habit reflective of Facebook statuses and tweets. Perhaps you’ve already stopped reading this article seeing as it was longer to read than the time it takes to view a Snapchat. The most important question still remains: will these multiple succinct and impersonal ways of communicating permanently replace meaningful in-person conversations? Many adults would say that this generation is losing the ability to talk to each other in a sophisticated way. Often I find myself sitting in a room in which each of my friends is staring at their respective smartphone or laptop screen.
Our everyday conversations have taken a toll due to our need for brevity. However, though perhaps less frequent, the most important conversations are usually held in person. Despite the obsession with our online persona, it is still a social faux pas to deliver bad news in any mode but face-to-face. Breaking bad news or approaching difficult subjects online has an air of avoidance, a distance that can cause irreparable damage if a word is mistyped or misconstrued.
Truth be told, conversation cannot become obsolete for the simple fact that we are social animals – we need a close, human connection in order to survive. We will continue to meet for lunch, host parties, and hang out with our friends rather than bury ourselves in the abyss of the internet. Contact is important. The truly important moments of our lives remain offline – our best memories do not involve a screen. The art of conversation will never really die – it may just seem that way next time you’re sitting at dinner.