Listening to the Peter Gabriel song "Come Talk To Me" on the radio this morning led me to thinking about communication. How we choose to "talk" is very different today than it was when that song came out, in 1992.
Phones: there is a slew of new cellphone models being rolled out this Spring by several manufacturers, and iphone rumors of even more than we know for sure. Is there a new iphone coming soon? And with these new models, will we be communicating differently in a few months? I can't help noticing the people walking around with a tablet to their ear every now and again. The people walking around seeming to talk to no one until you notice the earbuds tucked away... that stopped being unusual a while ago.
Every new phone roll out provides the challenge and opportunity to choose between the familiarity of our current phone and the possibilities offered by the new models, which inevitably means relearning many of our routines. If nothing else, I suppose we are being trained to embrace change, a challenging skill for most of us humans. Still, it amazes me that we can already track our daily footsteps, heartbeats, meals and sleeping habits in the same 5 inch handheld gadget with which we make calls, and reference entire dictionaries, encyclopedias and almanacs worth of random information, including "what was that song, again?"
It is a bit of challenge now explaining the bright red UK phone booths, as seen in Harry Potter and Dr. Who, to kids who have never seen or needed a phone booth. Almost as hard to contextualize as the fact that the latest ambassador appointed by the US was sworn in with her hand on the bible in her e-reader. Or the idea that a friend was telling me about a San Francisco start-up who was trying to pay for a six-figure sponsorship deal entirely with Uber credits.
But all our lifestyle paradigms, including currency as much as communication, are in disruption mode. And we've learned that what seems silly today, may seem very logical later. The press is noting financial experiments in Africa and Afghanistan in which phones are the media of digital currency; handset feature phones, that is, not smartphones, so they aren't using internet access. The implications for the culture, economy, security and future of currency in those countries and their cultures are broad and amazing. We bank on our smartphones in the US via the internet, and we know the BitCoin community is exploring the future of US digital currency, with early windows into the pitfalls. But what is notable in the African and Afghan experiments is the impressive adoption rate in traditionally slow tech adoption regions. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, as illustrated in the report that many Afghan police thought they got a raise, only to find the digital currency was suddenly preventing their bosses from skimming their wages as had been the norm!
Amazing what a phone can do. But the topic here was talk, the fundamental human need to communicate. So, is it a coincidence that these technology advances noted above are made possible by a tool whose first and primary purpose is a phone call? Human connection, it seems, is still a primary and compelling driver of many things.
Beyond the voice phone call, "talk" today can include many media: texting, social media interactions, video call, conferencing, chat, emailing and more. Of course there is always face to face if you have to resort to that. That was a joke... my favorite, most soothing sound is the voice of someone dear to me. Yet, the means by which we "talk" are many, and multiplying daily. And I submit that learning the way, and volume with with we employ those avenues of "talk" is a key to our success in managing it.
The options are many. The question is whether our need to communicate to enhance our relationships is met, or drowned by all these options. Often the many choices, and many ways we receiving communication can be overwhelming. Researchers have been trying to measure and quantify our access to information, and our information overload. Early evidence suggests that social media addiction can indicate depression, but whether it is cause or effect is unclear.
Anecdotally, over the recent Memorial Day weekend, there erupted in social media a #yesallwomen thread in response to the tragedy in Santa Barbara. The social media conversation was, and continues to be passionate, polarized, moving, frustrating and interesting. It was deep and wide enough to merit coverage on worldwide news media.
The conversation, itself an unexpected twist in the series of events, took unexpected twists of its own with counter threads, and animated opposition as it continued. But the very fact that the conversation took place, with contributions from women and men from all over the world examining a confounding series of opposing perspectives on the issues it raised, is a hint that maybe the answer is yes. We are communicating better. No question we are communicating more. And while it is understood that communication alone, whatever its form, may not resolve all problems, it is a critical starting point.