Friday, November 04, 2005


A friend involved in the fashion industry just recently gave me the inside tip that “Communication is sooo out this season." And while I am brand-conscious, I wasn’t familiar with the specific one she mentioned.

“No, it’s not a brand,” she laughed. “I meant “communication.” Like talking and discussing and stuff.”

My friend, a great communicator in her own right (to put it mildly), is known for making random generalizations without much substantial consideration. After all, her industry encourages her to change both her mind and her style on a whim. How do you feel right now, they ask themselves? And then there is nothing more to ask.

But this time, she had a point. Except communication isn't just out this season. It's been out for a while.

"It's not a profound statement," said another friend who I regularly IM with, "but I have Instant Messenger, a cell phone, a land line, two email addresses but yet I feel like the people I talk to...we're not quite communicating." Somehow I understood what she was saying without much of an elaboration. We have all so many outlets for communication that, inevitably, we're overwhelmed by the multiple options. We may communicate with all of our contacts often enough but it's rarely substantive. I have one friend in particular who has broken up with his girlfriend three times (and is now back together with her), essentially, because he had never found the courage or the time to share his frustrations and concerns with her. All the while, he spent his time with his on-and-off girlfriend never quite communicating. It was easier being non-confrontational…than tackling their issues.

"I find that I'm generally afraid to tell people what I'm thinking," said this vertebrae-challenged friend. "And because of that, I suppress my feelings, keep things bottled up, so much so that I come to resent the situation I’m stuck in. And as a result, I resent the person I’m stuck in the situation with. I realize that when I'm not communicating, it just makes it worse in the long term. But, man, it’s hard to tell people what you’re really thinking. Especially when you care for them."

But as Tears for Fears said, shout, shout, let it all out. "Situations do get worse when there is no communication," said a psychologist friend of mine. "It sounds obvious but it's advice rarely taken to heart. One half hour conversation revealing your inner thoughts and truest wishes...and in the long term, it could save your relationship a lot of torment and misunderstanding. It could make it the richer for it."

I asked the psychologist whether all these outlets for expression and interaction were harming or helping create more opportunity for an open dialect. “Well, that's a tough question to answer in one conversation...but I would think, in some ways, it’s harming our ability to truly connect,” she said. “You rarely get time alone these days that you’ll take any opportunity to not talk. And you're so overwhelmed by messages, and emails that when we do finally get back to people, it's rarely meaningful or expressive.” She continued, “We're overexposed to people and underexposed to ourselves. And therefore, we don't always have the time to even figure ourselves out.”

There's a song by the Cardigans entitled "Communication." Coincidentally, it's a song that I heard on shuffle on Saturday night during a productive conversation of my own. In fact, that very discourse was perhaps one of the best conversations I've had in a long time, therein allowing me to truly communicate. While we spoke, the lyrics softly passed in the background, "If you want communication/That’s what you get/I’m talking and talking/But I don’t know how to connect." There's a real difference between talking and communicating. Talking is when the mouth isn't afraid to let the words go. There’s not much attachment involved in talking. But communicating usually involves risk. Communicating is when your thoughts break free from the inner-workings of your mind and offer themselves to the listener, who hopefully embraces them.

So perhaps my fashionable friend was right. Maybe communication, along with the argyle pattern, is out this season but I, for one, am doing my best to be unfashionable.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel my words have been twisted to suit your blogging needs. I also like to text with reckless abandon. We're too available and then when someone isn't all of a sudden, it's infuriating. See season 2, episodeX of Sex and City, with Aiden and Carrie. Seems you should conduct some kind of experiment...

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's not a profound statement," said another friend who I regularly IM with, "but I have Instant Messenger, a cell phone, a land line, two email addresses but yet I feel like the people I talk to...we're not quite communicating."

It's been suggested that the transition from a print-based culture to digital culture (wherein communication occurs via all of the methods listed above) is a paradigm shift as fundamental as that from pre-literate oral culture to literate culture - that we are in fact experiencing a fundamental alteration of the way we, as a society, interact with reality.

A dense way of putting things perhaps, but the apparent weightlessness of the e-mail, of the IM, of the cell phone conversation is such a common sentiment that it must truly mean something. Is it that all of these media have a tendency to fade away, presumably unlike a physical letter that you can keep in a drawer?

It's hard to say. Certainly there is nothing about these new media that disallows the kind of heartfelt "deep" communication we associate with images of inkwells and yellowed paper...but maybe the touch-and-go nature of digital media *discourages* that kind of communication.

11:36 AM  

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