Communication in the 21st century is never good enough.
I firmly believe we are continually settling for things like text messages instead of phone calls; we are allowing ourselves to change what we once felt was fair, just and ‘right’ based on the technology that allows an ‘easier’ life and ‘easier’ communication. But it begs the oft-asked question, is ‘easier’ necessarily ‘better’?
Let’s use rejection as an example of this breakdown in communication. Rejection involves two things: someone asking a question knowing full-well there is a chance their advances will be turned down, and someone turning that person down. ‘Turning someone down’ can mean a multitude of things, depending on who you’re asking: it could mean you tell someone in plain English, “No thank you”. It could mean, “I didn’t respond so that should tell you I’m not interested and you should take the hint.” It could mean a literal or figurative slap in the face. But there are plenty of nice, good-hearted ways to reject someone too.
Rejection is an unpleasant thing to do, and everyone knows it. You don’t want to be the “bad guy” and have that change other people’s perspectives of you. You don’t want to be looked at as a villain, a dream crusher, or a bitch. Nobody sympathizes with the bitch except fellow bitches. So rather than look like the bad guy to someone’s face, we look like a bad guy behind their back. What I mean by this is, we ignore the person. We never bother to respond, in hopes that we never have to see them again. Texting and Facebooking and tweeting makes that an incredibly easy feat to pull off. No face-to-face rejecting needs to happen at all and that makes us all feel safe and secure.
But does that safety net make this a socially acceptable thing to do?
As little as maybe… let’s say fifteen years ago, before there was text-messaging or social networking or really, the internet or portable technology whatsoever, when we wanted to ask someone out on a date, we would call them. And eventually, unless they were out of the country or VERY purposefully avoiding, we would get a hold of our object of desire via telephone and once we did, we’d ask someone out. We’d talk to them; we’d hear their voice. And if they wanted to reject us, they had to bite the bullet and say a simple but polite, “I’m flattered but I’m not interested, thank you.” Firm, good, clean break without baggage, questions, or wondering. Suddenly, this has become too difficult, emotionally and physically, and so we no longer do.
Having been on the receiving end of this, I find it very frustrating. If you really like someone, leaving that communication open-ended is like a ray of hope; maybe they’re busy, or out of town, or preoccupied. Maybe they’re finally finishing a stint with a really crappy girlfriend and I’m next in line and they’re just waiting for the perfect moment…maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe… until there are so many ‘maybes’ you can’t relax because you’re suddenly intent on, and focused in on those maybes. Because even though deep down you know you’ve been rejected, there’s still hope. And if you really like someone a lot, hope is an open invitation. And hope is more powerful and consequently, more painful, than being told ‘no’.
Don’t we still owe someone the decency of an honest answer? Or has social media and text messaging stripped us of that need by providing us with an out so easy, it’s become the norm? Does technology dictate the norm and if so, since when? How far are we going to let that go, anyway? Is checking one’s cell phone now considered an acceptable thing to do on a date or when engaged in deep conversation? Is it suddenly going to be okay to video chat with friends while you’re out with someone else? Will people soon be sitting across the table or the room from each other, texting each other in lieu of speaking, simply because technology exists that allows us to do this? You might be saying, “Well that’s different.” How is it different?
I think that technology allows us the ability to skirt issues, cancel plans, and never have to follow up with someone or see them again. It allows our words to get lost in tubes and wires and seas of black-on-white writing. It allows us the refusal to provide someone with a brave, tactful honest answer to their brave honest question because we suddenly don’t need to anymore. In short, communication technology has stripped us of basic human decency that two decades ago, was a fundamental part of human relationships.
These days, we all live in little bubbles; we listen to music out of a pod, check news, weather, sports and email, and look at photos on an HD tablet screen, and we can hold our own world – our interests, our friends, our memories, our music – in the palm of our hand. It’s become something of a marvelous world in that regard. And yet, it’s lonely. It’s cold. It shows a distinct lack and renders us all solitary rather than social beings. Sure, we’re being social, but we’re often being social while we’re alone or when we’re not alone, we’re ignoring those in our inner circle who we’re physically with. I’ve said it myself: technology allows us instant connection to our friends, family, and to the outside world. But the thing about technology that bothers me is, some technology is not making life ‘better’; it’s replacing fundamental aspects of humanity, friendship, love and relations, that never needed a replacement in the first place. It is making these things easier and we often confuse the two and here we are, settling for the ‘ease’ that we’ve been granted.
When I ask someone out, when I pour my heart out to someone, when I make the effort to be a part of someone’s life, I expect that same sort of effort in return, even if that effort involves a very forward but diplomatic rejection. I want to be phoned once in a while, I want to be written to, I want to open a birthday card from an envelope, not in my email inbox, I want to get photos printed on glossy paper. I long for the return for a time when these acts of service were not thoughtful, but rather, a part of the norm. We’re impatient. I’m guilty of this impatience too. But I don’t want to stand back and watch ‘easy’ triumph over ‘better’. If someone wanted to win my heart, they would need to show me that ignorance, text speak or a Tweet are simply not enough, and never could be.