Words without language

March 14, 2015

The way we speak has been hi-jacked by technology.  We talk in texts, we emote in emails.  Plans, arrangements, negotiations, debates which would have been transacted in speech – face to face, or maybe a phone call – are now transmitted electronically.

This can be quick and efficient.  But anyone who’s used a microwave, drunk instant coffee, or driven an automatic sports car knows that quick-and-efficient comes at a price: the loss of quality and character.  With texts and emails, you gain ease, but you lose body language.  Electronic information is news without nuance., information without intensity.  When you are talking to someone, there is a physical reaction to what is said.  A subtle smile, a nervous glance, a cheerful grin, all add texture to what is being communicated.  Even a phone call has body language: you may not be able to see a reaction, but you can certainly sense it in tone of voice and timing.

Communication works best when people are involved, not machines.

Of course when a new technology becomes popular,  we can’t get enough of it.  It’s a bit like the early stages of a love affair.  In my parent’s time, it was normal “to go for a drive”.  This was a journey without destination: the pleasure of being in the car was its own reward.  In the era of speed cameras and congestion charges that seems ludicrous.  Half a century ago, when television was popularised, viewing figures showed that the average household watched for over five hours a day.  Nowadays we watch only when we want to; and neither of my grown-up sons even owns a TV set.  Their generation watches on a laptop or a phone – if they watch at all.  We will, eventually, reach that stage of  equilibrium with texts and emails.  We’ll use them when it suits us, but we’ll enjoy the extra layer of understanding and empathy that comes from the body language of a face-to-face meeting, or even from the tone of a phone conversation. 

But in the meantime, we’re still trapped in text-world.  We’re using words without language, we’re talking without texture. Which would you rather have –

“What a piece of work is man?”

or –

“LOL”

I rest my non-electronic case.

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