How we communicate – through the ages

This is a nicely-directed short clip about the evolution in how we communicate – from the quill-pen letters all the way to the status-updates in Facebook. What’re your opinions – do you think the quality of our communication options has improved and become more convenient, or has it become an apathy of insincerity and meaninglessness?

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9 comments so far

  1. ML on

    It seems like this is a common worry, but I don’t think we really have lost touch. A person’s “world” has become much bigger than it was in the past, both in people they see/meet, places they go both to travel and to live, and the sheer amount of information they have to take in. We need a fast and convenient way to deal with all this. People worry that we are connecting via a pixelated screen instead of “real” interaction, but for most people I know, the screen isn’t a replacement, it’s a supplement, allowing them to stay even more connected to their friends and family than they ever would have. It’s only when it DOES become a replacement that it becomes a problem… but then again that assumes people can’t get social fulfillment from these types of connections. I think we’re seeing with all these “met online” friends and spouses that that isn’t the case. It’s something we need to keep an eye on, but not condemn, in my opinion.

    Has the quality of our written word deteriorated? I’d say yes, but that’s the consequence of giving your entire population education and literacy. Nowadays (compared to, say, 100 years ago) pretty much everyone can read and write no matter how “good” they are at it. I’d say that’s a good thing much more than a bad thing, and the brilliant writers are still able to practice their craft.

  2. Gems Sty on

    Hi ML,

    I tend to see the evolution of communication as shifting from a deep ‘tall’ triangle to a shallower but broader one. We communicate faster, to more people and more rapidly now (the amount of emails we send in a week is probably more than the entire life’s quota for someone a hundred years back).

    To me it’s never the medium that is an issue: I’m sure telephone and subsequently IP-telephony made it ever easier and cheaper to call someone in the planet. It’s more about the quantity and the amount of effort/attention paid onto it. And that’s where technology encourages (does not necessarily have to happen, but have a tendency to) the lower attention span. It’s not that the technology itself causes attention-deficit – it’s a matter of technology’s natural pursuit of being easy, effortless and requiring minimal emotional investment. That is where, as you pointed out, we need to keep an eye on, I think.

    I’d take one deep connection over twenty shallow connections any time.

  3. ML on

    It’s true that having to fit what you want to say into a text message can and has lowered our writing abilities somewhat. But humans’ need for deep connection and intimacy has not gone away because of that and it never will. I think no matter how many options we have to communicate, we will always seek out the meaningful relationships — otherwise, what have we to live for? I don’t think technology is inhibiting these deeper connections, I think it’s allowing us to have many more shallower ones. If you think about your aquaintances, how many of them would be better friends if you were forced to talk to them on the telephone or in person instead of email or texting? The reason you are using those means in the first place is probably because a) you either don’t have enough time to devote to it, or b) you don’t feel much connection with them anyway. In the absence of email, texting, and facebooking, you would probably simply not have a relationship with them at all. At least, this is how this technology is affecting my life. It allows you to upkeep many shallower connections so you have that to draw from to build deeper ones instead of letting them fade away. It doesn’t preclude the deeper connections unless you let it, I think. No one’s stopping you from calling someone up or asking them over to shoot the breeze, right? 🙂 Like I said, I think it’s human nature to seek out these relationships and we would never let it get so bad that that couldn’t happen. I think urban and suburban sprawl has done much more to hurt the social fabric, at least in America, than this kind of technology has, simply by the fact that people are spread out and living in communities where there is less trust in one’s neighbors.

  4. Gems Sty on

    Agreed – I think your point that technology and (deep) communication is not mutually exclusive. I suppose the big question for us is really, how to make sure that we remember the importance of building deep communications/relations, regardless of the means.

    Out of curiosity (I’m not from USA) – why do you say the suburban phenomenon made it less easy to trust neighbors? What’d be a better solution?

  5. ML on

    Well, I didn’t word that very well, but I see it like this: over the past hundred years or so, we have moved away from small towns with very cohesive communities in which everyone knows each other. As cities have sprawled out into suburbs, there is less of that community feeling, and it is harder to find places where you can feel part of a group and meet and interact with people on a regular basis outside of school, work, etc. I think it has made it easier for people to be/feel isolated and disconnected. I guess it’s not that you can’t trust your neighbors… it’s that you don’t feel supported within a community. It’s too big and sprawling, it’s too easy to move within it and still feel alone. It’s like the difference between attending a small school and a huge school. More students can actually decrease the amount of connection people have because people form insular groups.

    Keeping communities in manageable sizes, and planning them out in ways that eases social interaction, such as having “walkable environments” where you are out among the people instead of going from house to car to building to car to house, that would be a good solution, I think. People are starting to build those kinds of places now, where subdivisions have their own neighborhood centers with shops, restaurants, markets, theaters, parks, etc, right in the center of them within walking distance of all the homes. That gets people out and with each other, and knowing who everyone in their little community is. 🙂

  6. Gems Sty on

    I see… so it’s the size that’s the issue. I’ve always assumed that suburbs are conducive for neighborly interaction – what with all the side walks, lawn etc. I guess maybe I watched too many movies…

    Perhaps something like the cohousing developments may be better – always feel better living in a community (as opposed to simply, a cluster of physically-proximate but practically-isolated units).

  7. stephen on

    Hey, I’m responsible for that movie.
    (You run an awesome blog here. 6 months ago when i found it I actually spent an afternoon reading all the back articles from the archive. Anyway, this said, today I almost fell off my chair when I saw you had linked to this video.)

    This was an assignment for my Graphic Design course and we were given 1 week to complete the video. Posting the video online has just been a matter of curiosity for me and my group members to see it being received by wider audience.

    I’m stoked to see people actually voicing their opinions on the message the movie portrays. The movie itself is extremely narrow minded in scope and I’m glad that people haven’t outright trashed it. Your comments are really really smart. So thanks.

    I’m a child of 1988 so I tend to get jaded by all the plastic and digital means of communication and this makes me really romanticise the past in some way that probably never existed.

    Oh well, thanks for the feedback!

  8. Gems Sty on

    Hi Stephen!

    Thanks for your compliments on the blog – I’m glad you liked it! Thanks for the additional background information about the video too – I’m sure you’ve been receiving a lot of press about it (whether intentional or not). Curious though – in general what are the responses like? I’m sure there’d be a mix – what are some of the more interesting viewpoints you’ve received?

  9. stephen on

    well the only press has been from the classroom, from comments on YouTube and your blog (I don’t know if it’s being talked about elsewhere).

    Overall: people agree it’s a well made video with a thought provoking question.

    People disagreeing:
    “This video is taking a cheap shot at our romantic sides. You put a soft focus on screens or people and of course it will feel like dystopia filled with anomie. It is not a real investigation into the quality of our connections with each other: an investigation that it worth having.”
    “i don’t think we have lost touch, we have gained a way to communicate more easily. More immediately. For instance, I can comment on this video, where 15 years ago the video nor my ability to comment on it would not have existed.”
    “writing on pieces of paper?! that is such a cheap/quick way to communicate. You children with your pony expresses…. You really had to THINK about what you would write back when the only option was carving it from stone. Oh, the good old days….”

    These area all relevant responses which is good… because at least people are responding in some way. (though it does give me heart palpitations when I read people negatively responding to our movie… I’d prefer to live under a rock)


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