There I am, standing in the kitchen at 8:30pm, thinking about my friend that I haven’t spoken to in a while. “I should call her”, I think. But I am tired after an exhausting day and I have many other things I want to do as well. The thought of picking up the phone to make a phone call seems a little over my effort threshold at the moment, so I pick up my phone while walking up the stairs to do my laundry, and I send a quick text : “Hey! How are you? Thinking of you!”. I put the phone down and continue on with my evening.
Although this scenario may seem harmless and is quite normal in today’s digital world, I admit that deep down, my lack of willingness to make that extra little bit of effort to pick up the phone and call my friend points to a level of avoidance in connecting on a more personal level. Hearing a person’s voice (when you cannot see them in person) is exponentially more personal than communicating via text message or email and certainly takes more time and effort. However, before cell phones and emails became so mainstream, phone calls were the norm and were not perceived as effortful; it was all we knew and as such, we would just pick up the phone and call someone if we wanted to convey a message to them. Now, the convenience of technology has created a relative perception of burden and effort. Born out of this digital age, a society of great efficiency and convenience has arisen, but so has a resulting side effect of a culture of avoidance, discomfort, resistance and in some cases, fear of actually making a more personal, meaningful connection with someone.
Close your eyes and imagine the voice of someone you know well: their unique sound, intonation, inflexion, and personality that comes through in the way they speak. The way they may happily exclaim, deeply sigh, softly say ‘mhmm’, the style of their laugh, or even the way they pause in thought. Think of the register of their voice, the ‘colour’ of their voice, the way their voice lends to their personality, and the way their voice makes you feel. So much of the way we respond when interacting with someone comes from our interpretation of the messages they are communicating, not through words, but through the tone of their voice and, when in person, their body language. I was talking to a girlfriend of mine on the phone the other week and she was telling me about a blissful new relationship she was in. As she was speaking, I told her that I could “hear her grinning from ear to ear through the phone” and she told me she was! What a beautiful moment of connection I was able to share with my friend.
I critically ask myself: when did using my device to communicate, excusably become an easy way out of connecting with someone more meaningfully through a good old fashion phone call? More importantly, do I value my relationship with a given friend, family member and myself enough, to step out of my comfort zone and my ‘too busy/too tired’ mentality in a particular moment, and put a little extra effort to pick up the phone and talk to them?
Now don’t get me wrong, I still use text messages and emails regularly and still more often than talking on the phone, and I certainly think that text messages and emails are extremely beneficial when used in the right contexts–to quickly convey specific information (i.e., meeting details, an address, informing someone you are running late etc…). However, when conveying more personal or open-ended sentiments such as ‘How are you?’ or even ‘Happy Birthday’, although digital communication can be used in such situations and still lets someone know you care (and I do genuinely care when I send personal messages through email or text), I think the depth of love, authenticity, empathy and connection that you can get out of those communications will be wonderfully richer if you can hear and experience such moments through a present interaction instead of reading words on a screen. Communication is not just words, it’s an entire experience of connection.
Below is a link to an episode from a podcast I love, called the Good Life Project by Jonathan Fields. This particular episode elaborates on the topic of technology and its impact on empathy, communication, connection and education.