When I started dating in high school the biggest challenge of communicating with the opposite sex was wondering what to say, not what tool I should use to transmit the message. Now we have endless options at our disposal: cell phones, social media, text, video chat, images and email to name a few and each has its own purpose, etiquette and meaning. But do we really communicate any better? Unfortunately, these channels have instead created a society filled with distracted, careless communicators, who find it challenging to be present when face-to-face. This doesn’t really foster healthy communication skills in a relationship.
In high school, I was ecstatic to have my own phone; it was a Garfield phone with giant eyes that opened when you lifted the receiver. It was attached to the wall with a cord, in my bedroom, and connected to an answering machine, perfectly prehistoric compared to today’s standards. The only way I knew someone had called was to be at home to get the live call or to listen to a recorded message. There was a huge freedom in not being tethered to a phone 24/7, and when we were face-to-face we were really there, with no distractions. While communication was limited to very specific interactions, you chose words more carefully and listened a bit more closely.
Today, our options to connect allow us to get our message out in more subtle and varied ways, and, depending on your mood and commitment level to the person in question, you can communicate as much or as little as you want. You can text your love to someone in three letters, break up with a status change on FaceBook, initiate sex by snapping a picture and hitting send, ignore calls based on caller ID, or simply block someone through just about every medium. We have more options and control, but are we really using these tools wisely or has it just made us lazy and less accountable? Has this technology made it too easy to slide in and out of relationships with flirty texts and abrupt goodbyes? I think that it’s doing more harm than good.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
Even with all of this technology we aren’t any better at saying what we really need to say to each other. It’s still hard to be honest, to be vulnerable, to say it isn’t working or that you are falling in love. That’s because we still have emotions we have to acknowledge and then articulate. All the technology in the world can’t do that for us. Instead, technology, in all its varied forms, gives us the easy way out. We can tweet, chat, text and send images that we hope will get the message across in very few words and without having to really put our true feelings on the line.
What are you really saying?
If anything, these advancements are putting more layers between us. Even when we are in the same room, it requires discipline to put down the phone. It’s gone so far that someone came up with a game called ‘The Phone Stack” to get groups of friends to put down their phones long enough to stuff down a meal. The rules are this: You all put your phones in a stack in the middle of the table; then you must ignore all ringing and buzzing from them. If anyone can’t resist the siren call of their phone and picks it up, they also have to pick up the check.
In my opinion, this game exemplifies the sad truth about modern-day relationships: We feel that the person in front of us, the ones that we love, the ones we are trying to potentially grow a relationship with are not important enough to get undivided attention. The little glowing box wins. The momentary validation we get from all those “likes”, “favorites” and “+1’s” rank higher then face-to-face human interaction. But rest assured: The world will still turn if you don’t answer your phone for an evening or wait to message someone until the next day. It wasn’t so long ago that we would actually be away from our phones, for hours at a time, and, you know what … we made it through okay.
Can you hear me now?
So what are we afraid of? What is so hard about looking someone in the eye and saying, I love you, I care about this, I like you, I want to hear how your day went, and then simply listening? Like anything, real communication and being present takes practice. If you live your life saturated in technology and input overdrive, then it definitely will take a lot of practice. If you are looking for love or you are trying to improve the connection in your current relationship, try the following on a regular basis: Put down the phone (laptop, netbook, tablet, mouse, remote and game controller) and then stop and really look into the eyes of the person in front of you and ask them: how their day went, what the high point of their day was, how they feel. And then, simply listen. The hope is that they will be willing to do the same for you.