Connected Disconnectedness

As we connect computers, they connect us to communicate in new ways, but are we really connecting? Is it really social?

My daughter called me one day from Australia—the other side of the world. The call was free, thanks to an app on my iPhone that does Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Usually, the quality of the connection could sound better than a regular local phone call. If we want to leave messages for each other, we have some text messaging options within this app. Sometimes we even use a video call and there are a couple options for that. We can connect through the Technojungle, but it is not until we are together that I realize just how limiting that connection is. Technology-mediated communication can be quite different from face-to-face communications.

We humans have never been so connected and yet at the same time so disconnected. We have so many wonderful convenient ways to communicate with each other. All this right at our fingertips through the Technojungle.

Everywhere you look you can find people disconnecting from each other, even when they are in close proximity to one another. Instead of devoting their attention to relating to each other, they choose to relate to someone else through the Technojungle.

Why is it that with so many marvellous methods for communicating and connecting, we still seem to be disconnected? Could it be that we are too often substituting a technology-mediated communications of the Technojungle for personal human contact? In a world where we are gathering friends by the hundreds on social media platforms, do we really still know what it means to truly communicate and have, or be a real friend? Do you find it easier and resort to using the technology of the Technojungle to do your communicating? I raise my hand a say guilty. For example, when asked to call my son for dinner, I grab my phone. I used to yell, or run upstairs and get a little exercise. These days he usually has gaming headphones on and can’t hear me. Oddly, he often doesn’t pay any attention to his phone. What’s the point in all these wonderful communication tools then if some people ignore them? So I can often end up running up the stairs anyway. By that time, dinner is impending and I can’t even take a moment to engage with him over what he is up to.

I was in a cafe talking to someone across the table from me. This is face-to-face and usually a very good human way to communicate to one person, or a small group of people. Most of us have done something similar to this, so it should be easy to imagine this scenario. As I talked, the other person was nodding and taking turns talking with me. This is pretty simple, except there were many other people also talking in the room at the same time. This created some interference with our messages being heard. There was music playing in the background too. Often and suddenly loud Technojungle noises would come from behind the coffee bar as a machine was used to prepare someone’s order.

Can you explain some more ways the effectiveness of the communication can quickly deteriorate as other noises interfere and filter out some of your message? We humans do much better at understanding each other when face-to-face in a non-distracting situation. That’s why some conversations on the phone might go like this: “Can’t you tell me now?”, “No, I need to tell you in person.”

In the cafe example, we are pretty good at communicating face-to-face because we not only use verbal skills, but also non-verbal skills. These noisy Technojungle environments are odd to me because, even if you have to shout, nobody else can hear you besides hopefully the person you are talking to. I know another effect is that extra noise elevates stress levels in humans.

Remember, most communications, containing audio or video content, involves taking ideas, choosing a Technojungle communication channel or medium, encoding them into a message (in the case above, language), transmitting the message through a medium that probably contains some sort of filtering  or disrupting interference, the receipt of the message, decoding of the message by the receiver and some sort of acknowledgement or action.

Obviously, if the cafe was completely quiet, it would be much easier to communicate successfully. Now imagine some other methods of communication we have at hand in our modern Technojungle life. What changes in your communications when you use the telephone? This is a verbal only channel or medium. However, it does transfer voice inflections, but no visual information. 

Interestingly, when I was young, the Technojungle video phone was more than a promise, it was a sure thing for the future. I don’t see a video phone, do you? Why aren’t video phones common? Someone told me that people don’t want to be seen in their pyjamas, or underwear, or….

The phone just rang here in my house. I was curiously reminded of the time the predecessor of Voicemail was sweeping society. “What, I can have a machine answer my phone for me?” “Even more, it can speak a message from me in my own voice.” “Wow, it can also take a message in the form of a recording of the callers voice.” “How marvellous is that?” It was not long before everyone had one of these fabulous communication devices. People soon realized that, as the machine picked up the call, it played the caller’s voice on a speaker, so you could listen and decide whether you wanted to talk to the caller. We commonly came to call this the Answering Machine, however, other parts of the world called it by other names.]

Sure, we can use one of the many video communication methods, but they are not used as commonly as a telephone. I remember a video phone coming to market in the 1970s. I think we were told that this was the future of the telephone. The video phone never caught on. I’m not sure very many Technojungle futurists thought a pocket phone would overtake the video phone, or that a pocket phone could have something like a video phone as one of its functions. 

The popular secret agent comedy TV show of the 1960s had Maxwell Smart, “Get Smart,” using, among many other gadgets, a shoe phone. Another popular show I watched during the same era was The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In this spy program, the agents could communicate from anywhere in the world with headquarters using a pen phone.

We humans use many forms of written and visual communications. Some work better than others. People have composed letters for centuries. Often this was done at a desk or table in a quiet place. Ideas were carefully formulated and encoded into words. It was a thoughtful process. Contrast this with the many ways we use written forms of communications today, mostly through the modern Technojungle. Compared to letter writing in the past, how carefully and thoughtfully do we prepare our ideas into a message that will be easily understood with minimal misunderstanding? Do you experience any misunderstood communicating?

How often do you see well written communication? I see communications with poor spelling and grammar where I have to do an extra level of decoding to understand the message. Some people argue that this sort of casual writing is good as it represents our culture and at least gets people writing. But what does that say about us as modern advanced humans? Are we now a casual even sloppy society that can’t take the time to communicate carefully and effectively? Are we actually tolerating poor quality communications? Are we also sloppy in other aspects of our lives? Are we making Technojungle communications easier while messages are carelessly constructed? How can the Technojungle worsen or improve various communications to make our communicating more or less human?

One of the goals of effective communications is to minimize misunderstanding. In the cafe example, can noise actually be considered a message, or part of the message being communicated? The communications of others at the same time as yours is noise that interferes with your message. So is background music that you really can’t hear or listen to properly, and are certainly not paying attention to, at least consciously. The noise from a Technojungle machine behind the bar is telling everybody that it is doing something powerful. All these messages compete and get degraded into merely noise. Could noises such as the ones in the cafe example affect people in other ways in addition to stress?

…with all these marvellous methods for communicating and connecting, we still seem to be disconnected?

Hardly anyone these days can exist without E-mail. For me it is both a convenience and the pain of my daily existence. I do know a very few people, boomers and older, who are not tied to doing some of their communications by E-mail, however, they are rare. My kids told me many years ago that they had dumped E-mail as their main method of exchanging messages. The younger generations have given up on E-mail, turning to ephemeral, less permanent methods, such as chats that disappear after a period of time. Nevertheless, I see that E-mail has endured as one of the main methods of communicating over the Technojungle Internet.

My E-mail InBox is a Technojungle within a Technojungle. It gets filled very easily. Perhaps yours does too. It can be difficult to keep up. It is, just like the rest of the Internet, full of noise with buried nuggets of information packed away in the baggage of Technojungle foliage. That is, it is full of not very important, and even useless information. Wading through all the messages and information takes seemingly endless amounts of time. From subscription information to Junkmail and even Spam (E-mail that is sent to many people without permission), I must be constantly hacking a path with my E-machete through the jungle of E-mails. Even with filters designed to catch junk mail and spam, some does seem to get through. When a valuable message is encountered, it may not be written clearly. Even worse, I may miss an important message due to being bogged-down in the foliage of noise. This is certainly the baggage of a future living in the Technojungle! What are your experiences with communication methods such as E-mail?

I realized one day that my smartphone was not was not so smart after all. It had not been deleting E-mails as they got old. When I checked what was taking up the most storage, mail was second only to photos. I had years of E-mail on my phone and that turned out to be a huge job to sort out.

In the past, newspapers, magazines and books were generally well researched, well written and well edited forms of communication. Today we have added a plethora of other channels from television programs to websites, all with information and communications which seem to compete for my attention. They can take me away from interpersonal human communications that would emotionally connect me together with other people. Rather than striving to be more personally connected with each other, we seem to be actually swimming, even drowning in our seas of information. 

With the basic understanding of communication theory mentioned earlier, we can look around in our world everyday, see the connectedness of people in our societies, and ask just how much do we really know about each other?

One day I heard someone say that, “People today have never been so connected and yet so disconnected from each other.” Another person stated that, “We have never known so much about our world and yet know so little about who we are.” It’s a sort of like, the more you know, the less you know. Have we moved from knowing a lot about a little to knowing a little about a lot?

“We have never known so much about our world and yet know so little about who we are.”

What are these statements saying? Are we in danger of spending so much of our time communicating through technology, that we can’t use more effective forms of communication to really come to understand each other and ourselves? I’m concerned that Technojungle baggage is burying us in such a foliage of a complexities of communications and connectedness that we can’t think and reflect on the messages we want to communicate. We live in a society of misunderstandings and noise that tends to disconnect and draw us away from each other while feeding us the perceptions that we are better connected and drawn together. This is dehumanizing. In some ways, we have forgotten what it means to know another person and relate to them on a truly human level.

There are places for Technojungle mediated communications. It was certainly wonderful to talk to my daughter at the other side of the planet, when she had time to talk, that is. What we need to be extremely careful about, is understanding the pitfalls of each method of communication and to not come to rely on it, or to give it a value of effectiveness that it does not actually have. Who in your list of social media Friends is really your friend? In other words, let’s get together more often in person and learn to communicate creatively and emotionally face-to-face. That’s real connectedness and being human beings in this world of technology. 

In this connected online world of the Technojungle, how well are you connecting and communicating to the people in your human life? Are you able to connect through all the noise? What is noise anyway?


5 Comments

  1. I appreciate the many questions you raise as we walk with you through this jungle book. Questions are key to thinking. By example, Family Systems Theory coaching with Dr. Murray Bowen is 85% asking questions.
    “I must be constantly hacking a path with my E-machete through the jungle of E-mails.” This is a helpful visual image. You may want a picture or cartoon to go with this insight. I recommend more technojungle ‘maps’ throughout the book, even in cartoon-like form. Do you have a cartoon yet of yourself, like they offer on Facebook?

    Like

    • We can be like little children and just keep asking questions: Why? Why? Why? The problem today is that there is little space in the torrential flow of information to ask questions. We tend to read it, see it, or hear it in the media and believe it is so, particularly if an expert is brought in. For example, if science says it is so, that’s it! Science is taken as a sort of god.

      Like

    • As for cartoons, this is exactly what I am hoping to have. David, are you around? We discussed having a cartoon of me in a safari outfit, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

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