Is The Digital Age Killing Communication?

.. and how do relationships evolve and grow?

This question for a number of reasons has been weighing on my mind – and today when I noticed it was National Telephone Day, it felt like so the right time to get this blog out there! It’s a longer one than usual but a topic I feel worth the time.

The telephone was once an instrument of connection – when you would ring someone up without prior warning or worrying if you were intruding – to ask how they were and to share news. You spoke with them sometimes (much to my dad’s crossness) at great length – sitting on the stairs and having an actual conversation. Friends’ family, business – picking up the phone was the way to go.

And when cordless was invented, I remember ringing my mum from the garden, so excited to be calling from there – never once did I imagine that a phone would become an addiction, and everyone carried one with them and yet conversation would be reduced to near enough zero ☹

Talking on the phone meant you learned to engage – now I hear so many young people say they feel anxious about calling someone and would avoid it at all costs – which of course you can a lot of the time, because companies don’t want you to phone anymore – but go on line or chat with a bot. For someone here, who was a BT operator girl in my early workdays, I find it sad this is dying out.

Alongside this, I recently had the mis fortune of experiencing terrible customer service – well actually just no customer service. I went to our local retail park – and in two shops I used, the tills were no longer there – just a line of self service check outs and one sad looking ‘ customer service ‘ podium which had no one actually standing there – customers filed dutifully through the system – and when a problem arose a red light went on and a person came over – with no communication or chat – swiped a card , pressed a button , and promptly left – ready to go to another red light – much like when the bell went off for Pavlov’s dogs and they anticipated food.

One of these shops was the local Boots – a place where actually customer service and chat at the till was once part of the shopping experience – ooh lovely shade of lipstick you chose etc ‘– now nothing.

This got me thinking to my first jobs – in shops – my first at Lloyds Pharmacy – as a young teenager of 14 I learnt quickly to talk to customers, to be polite, to work the till, give change and help people find things they needed – life skills I took forward with me. Nowadays these types of jobs are not really available – the supermarket is filled with people who scan goods for a living -collecting other people’s shopping, yet never engaging with other people in the process.

And on this same day – what I call a phone zombie stepped out in front of the car – thankfully I managed to stop – the individual never raised their head – plugged in to headphones and watching something scroll by on the screen they had – they didn’t really know that they had nearly been an incident number at A and E.

So how do we learn to communicate? how do  we grow social skills?, What happens when we need to have important conversations ?

As always I do admit there are benefits to our digital age – but in my view it should always be something that enhances and currently I honestly feel we are turning into a society of robots run by robots – in my work I see such anxiety in young people , the constant engagement with chats and messages, never switching off yet also struggling to handle every day life challenges ..

Finally on my week of exasperation, I encountered possibly the rudest children ever – having ventured to a local English heritage park my son wanted to play on the climbing tree – the group of 3 children already there, loudly declared he couldn’t and told him to go away – the interaction continued until one of them threatened him with a stick, called him a name and when I approached and said they were rude I was met with equal disdain – ‘no we are not you old hag!’ – me being an adult had no impact on their lack of manners. The mothers of said children finally came over – and did tell them to stop, but then engaged in a long dispute with them about which device they would lose time on – devices which were firmly in the mother’s hands – even though they had come to a park for the day.

No apology was offered and finally they left – by now the children were back on their iPad and had negotiated what items could be bought online if they behaved better …. In the battle of the tree my son and I certainly felt we had won – but much as I was angered by the children’s behaviour (and there were no excuses and sometimes you just have to call as it is – rudeness!) I was equally left wondering with all of this – how do we teach them to communicate and work together when life is negotiated from behind a screen and in person contact is being removed from so many aspects of our world.   How do we as humans grow into relationships, find relationships and be able to feel comfortable being ourselves when most of our interaction is handled in the digital space?

How do you then work through complications in relationships when you have to actually speak to the other person – right there in front of you?

Answers on a handwritten postcard please or via a telephone call

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