I spoke to a friend today about a recent funeral he attended. He spoke about this young man, no older than 25, who, suffering some time from depression, suddenly passed away.
My friend overheard some of his friends talking amongst themselves. What he heard he found disturbing. The last time they texted their friend, everything was OK, apparently. Another spoke about an email he sent him not more than a week before about a trip he was planning to take this summer. In these discussions, no one admitted they saw their friend, nor picked up the phone to speak to him directly.
The pervasiveness of email, text and chat has made it easy for every one of us to find a multitude of channels to communicate over great distances. We've grown dependent on these media but it has also moved us one step further away from human contact. We've lost all context and connections with our friends and families because we've insulated ourselves in these devices.
Our human connections are weakend
Some would argue that we over-communicate. I would argue that we respond but we don't communicate the way we used to. We've lost all sight of emotion, tone or inflection that carry the words we speak.
Last September, I wrote about the Loss of Trey Pennington, a social media thought leader, whose death came as a shock to those who followed him. Gini Dietrich write about Pennington in her post. Her words struck a chord in me, "It's so hard; this online world. I know I can be completely grouchy, but you'd never know it by my tweets or Facebook status or any other online interaction. It's easy to fake it in 140 character bites."
In this post, I wrote, "... a keyboard that unites individuals across the social space cannot and will not ever really be substituted for face-to-face contact... We do not have the benefit of looking someone in the eye, or conversing with them face-to-face. Ultimately no one can ever deny that a true relationship begins face to face. Technology will never replace the human connection that we all need and trust."
We've become less accountable
A very wise man told me, "In sales, the way to close a sale is by telephone or face to face... it's very difficult to say no to someone in these instances." You can ignore an email or a text, however, if truth be told, someone other than a sales guy could argue that using email or chat validates an action that immediately puts the onus on the other guy to respond. "I've done my part... it's now on your court to tell me you want to do this deal." We've become complacent and lost the thrill of negotiation, or the trusted handshake. We've become lazy and have refused to use these very channels to build trust, relationships and credibility.
We've become passive-aggressive
Is it easier to be critical and aggressive through email and get your point across? Of course. Would you do the same in person? Perhaps, but why when you can hide behind the veil of an electronic medium? In some way, it makes cowards of all of us. Why face a potentially stressful situation when you can avoid it by email or even Twitter. I've seen some of the best "public" battles on Twitter that have have left prying voyeurs anxiously awaiting the next 140-character "slam." Would these guys hammer it out offline, if they had the chance? Probably not. They have a willing audience, anxious to see who wins the battle. And, they have centre stage. Who wouldn't opt for that opportunity? Not me... but perhaps those who want their 15 seconds of fame.
This article says it all, "Face-to-face communication remains the most powerful human interaction... As wonderful as electronic devices are, they can never fully replace the intimacy and immediacy of people conversing in the same room and it has worked for thousands of years."
Had that young man made a real connection with one of his friends, would his life have been saved? We still haven't lost our own abilities to hear the torment in someone's voice, the desperate cry for help in their eyes. As humans we are inherently attuned to each other. We have that connection. We can't allow ourselves to lose sight of its importance.
In honour of my friend, Faheem, I would like to quote a line from Death of a Salesman, "In those days there was personality in it... There was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it. Today, it's all cut and dried, and there's no chance for bringing friendship to bear -- or personality."
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