I have just read an interesting editorial lamenting the fact that this generation has lost its capacity to communicate verbally and personally. They are letting their fingers do the talking. I am old enough to actually remember the Yellow Pages slogan of “Let your fingers do the talking.” It was only meant to imply that the thick Yellow Pages book of registered telephone numbers could get you the party you wanted to talk to. In those days “talking” meant the exercise of actually moving one’s lips to transfer one’s thoughts verbally and preferably to someone else. What a concept! The editorial mentioned a very sad example of generational disconnect whereupon a young lady was given a “Dear John” message through a phone text. How chivalrous of the man to break off the relationship without having to look at the girl’s face or feel her broken heart! How convenient that we can now hurt others just by letting “our fingers doing the talking.”
Texting seems to be the communication medium of choice for this generation. Acronyms replace words, and the dispatching of shortened messages and codes replace any emotional attachment to the message. “Leaving you for another man…LOL” This generation has turned emotion, passion, good behavior, good manners, and courage; into a cynical detached connection that lets the sender remain cocooned into a comfort zone, whereas the receiver is given an instant cold shower of bad news with a click of a finger. This dispassionate way of communicating is isolating our society into a robotic-like generation that lost all sense of empathy and compassion. This is the “me” generation where if “I” am okay, then the world is good. Eons ago or so it seems, corporations discovered that when employees work as a team good things happen; the adage “there is no ‘I’ in the word Team” became all the rage. What the cliché implied was that success happens when people openly work and communicate toward a defined end. Is it then logical to conclude that this generation has lost its ability to define successful goals? Are people so disenchanted with themselves and the rest of society that they would rather retreat to technological comfort rather than human contact? Are we reverting back in time to a species who only communicated through sounds and clicks? The Neanderthals did it. They eventually grunted their way out of the Ice Age.
The above mentioned editorial wanted to get across the psychological impact that this detached communication will have on this generation as it grows older. We require relevant social contact or we will retreat into a world of unrealistic expectations and disappointments. We also require an accumulative library of memories that shape who we are through what we remember as who we were. Memories good or bad give us a compass and direction to our life. Bad memories of equally bad experiences generally make us stronger and determined to overcome challenges. Good memories give us the assurance that life can be good and successful. Both are equally important to a balanced state of mind. However, memories are made through personal connections and relationships. One must physically and tangibly connect with another to maintain the emotion and resiliency of that memory. I remember my childhood and what my parents taught me because they SPOKE to me. They did not text me to tell me that I was grounded. They did not text me to tell me that they loved me.
Missing out on human and social contact synthesizes people from experiencing intrinsic emotions they would rather not participate in. Texting someone to tell them bad news lets you off the hook in possibly having to witness someone else’s pain. It is a cop out. Is that the real reason for such blatant detachment? Have we arrived at a time and place where we can choose the kind of reality we want to be in? Is texting a way to limit our exposure to emotional attachment in an attempt and hope of sparing ourselves the pain of rejection? Are we raising a generation of pseudo zombies who prefer their technological reality to ours? Is our generation to blame for escapism in today’s society? Have we screwed up the past so much that our present generation would rather live in a technological bubble than a physical reality?
Our generation was the nuclear and Cold War generation. As we were growing up we still faced the realities of World War II and Vietnam. We listened to radio and eventually got hooked on television. Was that too much reality for us? Perhaps; however we also had parents who were home when we got back from school, made us sit at table for dinner every evening, and television was only allowed until bed time and when homework was satisfactorily completed; which meant that half of us rarely ever watched anything. Yet, we were also raised to be resilient to growing pains; to build strong characters. We all had bullies at school, and those who wore glasses were taunted. However, I do not remember any of us contemplating suicide or taking guns to school because of it. Maybe our technological naiveté served us well because we seemed happier than kids today.
My mother is 97 years old, and although her short term memory is shaky, she remembers her childhood as if it were yesterday. She can talk for hours about her childhood in Manhattan and Hell’s Kitchen. She can still remember friends and the neighborhood that stretched from 47th west into 50th where she went to school and eventually graduated. She remembers events and people with a smile and sometimes an awkward pause, but those memories are a viable part of who she is through who she was. Without them she would be just a hollow old body. Is technology depriving our youth from having fond memories of people and conversations? How will this generation’s long term memory materialize when they reach old age? The last time I visited my mother at the seniors’ home, we noticed a young woman multi-tasking as she attempted to text and listen to her 90 year-old grandmother at the same time. Needless to say the old lady was the only one who participated in that conversation; the granddaughter acknowledged with a nod and a grunt. What a pity, that granddaughter missed out on a memory that she will never regain. I felt like sending her a text: OMG get a life…LOL!