Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Losing Our Voice

by Annette Dashofy

The times, they are a changing.

I’ve noticed some changes in the world around me that have me a little sad and perplexed. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy most technology. I spend a large part of my life on the computer and online. I love staying in touch with friends on Facebook. And I’m gradually getting my feet wet on Twitter. But I fear we’re losing something at the same time.

Not long ago I was driving through a small town not far from here. It was a gorgeous summer day. Sunny. Not too hot. And I happen to know that this small town is not a retirement community. There are families living there. With kids. But there wasn’t a soul outside. No laughing, giggling children on bikes or skates. No impromptu game of baseball. No one playing hide-and-seek. No Frisbees or Hula Hoops or bubble wands. The streets were deserted.

It occurred to me there was a potential story here. Sci-fi. Time traveler from the seventies lands in this small town in 2010 and believes…what? Aliens have made off with the residents? The air is too poisoned to breathe?

Go ahead and make one up if you want. I don’t write sci-fi, so I don’t mind if you steal my idea.

But what happened to playing outside? Something that doesn’t require batteries. Something that won’t give you carpel tunnel. As several of us mentioned last month when our theme here at Working Stiffs was “summer,” our mothers would throw us out of the house with orders not to return until sunset. The closest I came to using a small, handheld device was a water pistol.

Last week, a friend of mine who’s a school teacher was saying that the hallways between classes, which I remember being loud with conversation and laughter, are now silent. Kids text each other instead of actually talking. The person they’re texting might be ten feet away.

Jumping back to the sci-fi thing for a moment, I remember episodes of Star Trek or Twilight Zone or one of those old shows, where an alien society had evolved to telepathic communication instead of speech. Is texting the stepping stone?

There’s another form of communication that is slowly dying in this text message world we live in. Phone calls. I remember when I was a kid (back in the dark ages), any time our phone rang, I’d pounce on it. It might be a friend. And then I could easily be on the phone for hours.

One of the side jobs I’ve picked up to earn a few extra dollars during Hubby’s unemployment stint involves me being an Avon new rep helper. I’m supposed to call new Avon reps and ask what I can do to help them, give them suggestions, or otherwise be a part of their support system. Also, I’m supposed to call a few people who have expressed an interest in becoming Avon sales reps and schedule appointments with them to get them signed up.

No one answers their phones any more. All I get is voice mail. For a society that feels a need to be in constant contact with everyone via Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging, no one wants to talk to me on the phone. I leave a message. They don’t call back.

Good thing I’m a writer with a strong familiarity with rejection.

So I ask you, fellow Working Stiffs and readers, have we as a society lost our ability to communicate verbally? Or should I shut up and be happy that kids are reading, even if that reading involves a shorthand I can’t decipher for the life of me?


Joyce said...

Interesting post. I've noticed one thing that hasn't changed is seeing teenage girls standing in a group giggling at the mall. One of them may be texting, but it seems to be a group activity.

My youngest son isn't that far out of his teens (22). When he was in high school, most of his friends had their own cell phones. He didn't. We were not about to pay all that money every month for what amounts to a toy. They boys got cell phones when they could pay for them on their own.

I think it's absolutely ridiculous for parents to pay hundreds of dollars a month just so their kids don't feel left out. If my sons were teens now, they still wouldn't have their own phones.

Part of the problem with not seeing kids playing outside is that a lot of them have been dumped in day care. I know a lot of mothers have to work, but I'm still old-fashioned--I think that moms should stay home at least until the kids are in school unless they absolutely have to work to put food on the table.

Annette said...

Joyce, it's official. You and I are dinosaurs.

Joyce said...

And curmudgeons. I love that word.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

I have a big concern. I do have teenagers, albeit on the upper end, but it scares me that they would rather interact with each other from behind a computer or phone than get face-to-face.

While they may end up computer geniuses, they definitely will lack the social skills necessary to deal with client, customers and co-workers.

I think that is why I enjoyed the Chinese culture so much. It's very social People enjoy interacting with other people.

It's too easy to be belligerent behind a keyboard.

Gina said...

People may be keeping kids inside these days, too, because of the perception that an unattended child will be snatched away by a psycho killer.

Remember Simon & Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence? Maybe we're there.

Carol Silvis said...

I'm as concerned as Wilfred that today's teens will lack social interaction skills. Customer service seems to be sorely lacking today. Imagine what it will be like with a generation devoid of the necessary face-to-face social skills.

Great post, Annette.

Annette said...

Carol, you, of course, were the one who pointed out the silence during class changes to me. That's just sad.

Will, I agree. Manners, common courtesy and professionalism are quickly evaporating.

Joyce, I'm with you. Curmudgeon is a great word!

Laurissa said...

Interesting post, Annette. Things definitely have changed since we were kids. Some of these changes are good and some as you've pointed out are not so good.

Patg said...

Life changes and many with a few years under their belts bemoan the changing times because they see the fun of their generation passing by. Or being kicked to the curb, depending on the individual's viewpoint.
I personally don't like all that texting as a form of communication, it rarely allows for complete or clean answers.
As far as customer service is concerned, I see many places trying hard to be friendly and helpful, but what constitutes helpful. A recent problem with a bank showed me several people looking me straight in the face, offering help and a sincere wish that I have a wonderful day, however in answer to my problem I received two 800 numbers.
Try to consider one thing, that what we were when we fell out of the trees is not what we will be when we quit Earth for good. The journey in between has produced many changes and will continue to do so.

Becky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

Carol as a 54 year old working with 95% of my coworkers in retail being under the age of 22 I can say you are absolutely correct.

L.J. Sellers said...

I also worry about kids today growing up without real outside play. It's more than just lost verbal communication skills, it's lost physical skills as well. I love technology, but we have to keep a balance.

Anonymous said...

I find it intriguing to see people with cellphones at their ear walking thru bookstores. The combination seems odd to me. They come to a world of books to lose themselves in an alternate reality that books provide, but they spoil it with that thing attached to their ear. Like they can't lose that attachment to reality.

Anonymous said...

The last anonymous comment was by me. Cheryl Williams