In the ‘West’ the art of conversation is dying. Meanwhile, communication is consuming us; threatening rational thought.
We communicate but no longer talk. The difference between these two activities is subtle but alarmingly significant. Communication is the exchange of information, by any means be it face to face or electronically via text or tweet, some piece of detail is passed onwards. Whereas to talk is the specific act of face to face communication, it too is the exchange of information, the expressing of feelings and thoughts, but face to face. Human to human. The next time you are texting, tweeting or emailing you are not talking to anyone, only communicating.
It is easy to think that such a difference is redundant, unnoticeable in the age of technology and immediate communication, round the clock via phone and internet. However when talking there is the unseen communication between our brains that no machine will ever be able to replicate. You are reading body language, hearing fluctuations in tone of voice and finally decoding the actual verbal content of what is being heard. Put all the components together and the brain does not just tell you what was said but how it was conveyed: the emotional meaning.
Albert Mehrabian developed a communication model in 1970’s showing how literal content of a message may in fact contribute the least to understanding what is being said. His model revealed 55% of communication is through body language, while tone of voice makes up 38% of communication, with the remaining 7% being the actual content of the message, simply put: the words we use when communicating. Percentages that should not be very surprising. Anger for example is quite easy to detect without the use of actual words, rioters smashing down windows and burning cars do not use words to clarify they are in a state of anger. They smash windows. They burn cars.
Consider a job interview: interviewee is assessed not solely on content of the answer but its delivery and the manner in which it is spoken. With confidence, nervousness, or even arrogant and flippant are assessments the cerebrum in our brain makes. It requires no formal training or education; these are evolutionary traits in all of us. Ready to detect danger or sadness the brain is wonderful at working unseen to interpret the subtle side of human communication. Now consider a job interview carried out via email only – the brain must rely solely on its command of language, which is prohibitively limited to a relatively few number of words (alphabetic languages being the most limited, unlike ideographic). This is why writing a similar version of ‘I am a passionate individual who can work as part of a team while leading the team…’ sounds inauthentic and painful when written on a job application. In a face to face interview passion can be conveyed without the use of the word passion.
Hours everyday we are committed to our electronic devices and the the communication they offer. Just like muscles ignored go to waste, so do parts of the brain left unstimulated. As parents hand out the i-pads to young children the damage being done and the effects on development are becoming highly consequential. Bear in mind also that this does not factor in the affect such devices have on attention span: child and adult. Unable to hold conversation, construct sentences of any eloquence, relying on ‘comments’ and general statements of fact, or soundbites.
When true face to face social occasions do take place, drinks with friends for example, the seemingly irrational occurs: despite the very human being/beings that we have pre-arranged to meet with, are now sat before our very eyes, conversation territory nearing, we take out a device that facilitates communication with other people and place it on the table. Ready to communicate with those who are not present in the face of our friend/s who are present. It makes no sense. This death of conversation may well and truly devolve into communication being redundant and we live in the post-talking world. We only ‘say’ things. Death to the dance of words and wit.
This change in how we communicate can account for the rise in extreme points of view and irrational reactions to often valid and valuable points of view. The age of immediacy. Social media allows us to react instantaneously, delivering our opinion, our agreement and our hate. Pre the internet of things, the absence of an immediate method to share our thoughts we had time for contemplation and rationalisation. Our self constructed opinion being re-moulded into a measured response based on time and evaluation. Now however, we can react immediately and we do. The immediate response is often the one based on emotion and therefore not the most rational or well thought out. But social media in hand we can open fire regardless. Why think and consider.
While the internet, struggling for positive social uses, will agree via algorithm to whatever we choose to say. Instead of uniting us it breeds opinion isolation. As the internet cannot disagree or offer alternative thoughts we become ever more intolerant of opinions that may not match our own. This is because we are talking less and less. The briefest moments of freedom have to be faithfully filled with our devices of communication. In the busiest cities, surrounded by similar souls, we choose the non-human interface.
The impact of our changed methods of communication I believe, are dire. The cerebrum part of our brain, tasked with thought and action, will remain untested and undeveloped, shrinking ever smaller. Effecting even our base level of communication, word only, when we cannot even communicate effectively via words what next? We must learn to leave the phone at home, how did we get to where we are today before the smartphone? With conversation and by talking to one another.