Sunday, December 23, 2012

Internet Communication Is Killing Interpersonal Communication

I was going to lay all the blame for everything I'm about to talk about on facebook. But really facebook is a Johnny-come-lately, a newcomer to a paradigm shift that was already well underway when facebook hit the scene.

Letter writing is falling way off as electronic communications become more and more prevalent.  Now, this doesn't mean that people aren't talking to each other, but what it does mean is that a lot of what is getting said doesn't need saying.

Writing a letter was, at one time, a project.  You needed to set aside a small block of time for it, gather materials, find an envelope and a stamp, get it to the mailbox or, if you're like me, to the Post Office.  It wasn't a spontaneous thing to do, and with so much other effort bound up around it, the things that got conveyed in a letter were things that mattered.  And since so much effort was bound up around the letter, if you were going to send a page, you might as well send several.  If I recall, you could send as many as six or seven pages on one stamp.

Even with her largish, loopy handwriting, a friend who corresponded with me in college could send over 1,000 words on one stamp - and she did.  I might have enjoyed a closer relationship with her since we were good friends in high school, but as it turned out her conservative religion - and similarly conservative father - would have prevented it.  And I have no regrets with how my life has turned out so far, so no worries there.

But if you want to send 1,000 words now, it's not so easy.  Twitter aggressively prevents such in-depth reporting, limiting each message to 140 characters.  Not words, characters.  Twitter bills itself as a "short message service," which is definitely true.  I'm already well beyond 140 characters in the first two lines of this paragraph.

How much can you get said in just 140 characters?  Average word length varies depending on whom you ask, so that's a tough call.  Let's assume 4.5 letters per word for your typical person, add one (for the space, which counts), and we're at 5.5.  That's about 25 words per tweet.

Can't get a lot said in 25 words.  Sure, there are all those iconic "25 words or less" contests that some of us over a certain age would recognize from our youth, but really - you can't say much.

It's no surprise that "twitter" is defined as "an inconsequential sound," is it?  And reading some of the tweets that have made it to the news, it's amazing that they're even put on the news.  Isn't the producer embarrassed afterward?

Read some tweets from celebrities, and they're just pointless bits of noise.  Inconsequential, indeed.  It's one thing to have idle thoughts - do you have to share them?  Hell, no.

So now, with twitter, with facebook, with email, we're training ourselves away from the letter writing skill, the letter writing tradition.  We can dash off a note with any of those technologies, a quick little missive that doesn't dig into the meat and bones of whatever it is we're talking about.  And even though it's awfully convenient to have those, I don't think they're as good.  We're communicating a lot but an awful lot of the communication is just babble.

It's as if we were all buying newspapers, but only reading the headlines.  The actual story isn't getting out.

My address:
PO Box 552
Norris TN 37828

Write me.  Write me something a bit longer than just 140 characters.

Or, if you prefer, you can write something lengthy and in-depth in the comment box below.  Give it a try, share something meaningful.

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