Observations – Communication in the Modern Age

Tech SwampedThere are a few good things about getting older, not many, but a few. One is that with time and experience, you have a better understanding of how things work, or at least a good means of being able to make comparisons.  For instance, the way we communicate with each other has changed significantly over the last 30 years. My husband and I started a business in Hawaii in the mid 80’s, and at that point you had three means of contacting someone. You could call them, you could send them a letter by mail or courier, or go visit them in person. That was it; there were no faxes, no texts, no voicemail, no Email, no Facebook, Twitter or anything else. I know at this point, if you are in your twenties, that concept is horrendous, but at that time, it made things much simpler and much more personable.

If you called someone, they would actually take your call, or even more surprising, if they were tied up, they would call you back. Imagine, someone returning your call, that’s almost unheard of today. I say that because almost every time I return someone’s call, it puts them into shock, and then after a few seconds of silence while they bring their dropped jaw back into position, they start thanking me profusely for doing what used to be normal. The structure of the call was different then as well, at least in Hawaii. Chatting with someone about their health, their family, and their hobbies was something you did before you got to business. It was called ” talking story “, and it basically was there to remind you that you were dealing with a real person that had feelings, goals, dreams etc. It added a necessary degree of respect to the business relationship. A case in point. I made a call to my credit card company a few nights ago, and spoke to a very nice man who right away asked how I was. I responded and returned the question, and was surprised to hear his reply. He was overwhelmed I had asked how he was, and told me that was the first time that entire day someone had asked him that question. When did common courtesy become such a rarity ?

For important issues, there were pieces of paper with writing, called letters, and you couldn’t procrastinate in getting them out in the mail, because you knew it would take at least a week to reach its destination. If you missed posting it in time, or it was a really pressing matter, you had to pay a huge bill to a courier service to get it there by the next day, or your first-born if you wanted it there on the same day.  Believe me, technology wins on this one. It’s a hundred times easier and more efficient today, and I wouldn’t want to turn back the clock, but the cost for that efficiency is a means of exercising and receiving patience. Everyone knew how long it took, so you weren’t expected to pull a rabbit out of your hat on a moments notice.

Then of course there was the personal visit. This was by far the best way to give and receive information, and generally it led to a stronger bond, whether a business associate or a friend, but it is also  was a very time-consuming and inefficient way of conducting business. Our office was a 30 minute to 1 hour drive from most of our clients, which meant a 5 or 10 minute meeting, could cost you 2 hours of your business day. That was huge. And it also gave rise to the traveling salesman, who spent more time on the road than they did at home. So again technology has improved how things are done and fortunately with teleconferencing, you get most of the personal connection. It’s not as good as a handshake, but close enough.

Ah, then came the fax machine. Woohoo, now things were getting easier and cheaper. What a fabulous addition that was to our business, in so many ways. The only down side was that now you not only had another method of receiving information, it was basically instantaneous, so people’s expectations of how fast you should respond to something, corresponded to the speed of the communication. That was the beginning of the end of patience as we knew it.

Soon, the curse arrived, voice mail, and with it, the automatic switchboard. Gone were the days you could talk to a live person, and gone were the days when people believed they should return a call. They didn’t have to. If they wanted to avoid someone, they just left their voicemail on. It was especially hard for those that worked in accounts receivable, because now, you literally could not reach a person unless they wanted to be reached. This changed everything.

Before long came Emailing, texting and social media, and even a superhero can’t keep up with all the levels of today’s communication. We are inundated from the moment we wake up to the moment we hit the pillow. There are not enough hours in the day to fit it all in, even if you didn’t have to do the menial things like make a living, or raising your children. So now to cope, we have 4 levels of categorizing those that are trying to reach us. The ” have to’s “; such as our boss, our mother, our personal trainer. The ” want to’s “; our significant other, our kids, the cute guy from the pet store. The ” if I get time’s “; our co-workers, our friends that want our help with a new project; and the ” not in this lifetime’s “; which is basically everybody else.

The problem of course with our modern age communication overload is we forget that at the its basic level, we are still dealing with real people who have real feelings, and real problems, just like us. So the next time someone calls you, if you can’t take the call, at least try to call them back. And when that phone solicitor interrupts your dinner, before you hit ’em with both barrels, try to remember that they are just trying to make a living, because they too have rent to pay, and a family to support. We are all in this together, and the more we realize that, the better world we’ll have.

Heather Spencer

Mission Positive Films

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

WordPress spam blocked by CleanTalk.