I have at my disposal, some of the most technologically advanced communications tools available to the general public. I have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, several e-mail addresses, a mobile phone capable of accessing any of the former as well as text messages and calls and a land line.
And yet I find it increasingly difficult to stay in touch with friends and to have any meaningful relationship with them. It seems to me, the more ways to communicate, the harder it is to do so.
Go back two decades and the only way to stay in touch was by snail mail and phone calls. As a somewhat impoverished student, phone calls were a bit of a luxury, especially at the price of phone boxes. Thus I kept in touch with some friends by writing to them. I would take the time to sit down and write sometimes long and rambling letters to them, get a stamp and make it to the nearest post box to send the letter on its way. The arrival of a letter meant that time was set aside to read what was written. The extra effort involved somehow made it special and something well worth doing.
Move to a decade ago and mobile phones with text messages and e-mail had arrived on the scene. Mobiles weren’t really capable of reading and writing e-mails so text messages were “pub, 8pm”. E-mail was something you had to be in front of a computer for and as such behaved more or less like the snail mail that had preceded it. And you really only had e-mail addresses for a few friends, so again the communication was precious and time taken over it.
Today we live in a hyper connected world where it is theoretically possible to get in touch with any person at any time. There are large circles of “friends” on Facebook, making news feeds full of information that isn’t really communication on any meaningful level. And keeping up means constantly checking all these different channels leading to what’s called Fear Of Missing Out, the worry that there is something cool happening somewhere and you’re missing it. It also leads to living vicariously, a sort of second hand experience synthesised from other’s experience.
Add to this the ability to tweet, post or Instagram any little detail at any time and communication becomes a flood of trivialities. It sometimes feels that proper communication is cast aside in favour of superficial contact. What’s latest, what’s new? Time isn’t taken to deepen relationships, there aren’t friends who’s letters and phone calls are looked forward to, that contain ideas that make you think. Instead we have vast amounts of information thrown at us, phones and computers constantly beeping with the latest tidbit. And there is so much of it that sometimes things are missed or even thrown overboard in the effort to stay on top of it all.
So as I sit and ponder all the recent messages I’ve put in digital bottles and thrown in to the sea of the internet, I wonder if we are not drowning in communications.