Aug 27

Tech-savvy humans losing communication and social skills

Article Written by Ian Kilbride.

When was the last time you wrote someone a proper letter? In fact given that this article is probably being read by an audience of people who are predominantly under 50, have you ever written a letter? I don’t’ mean a card or a note, I mean a three, four or five page letter, is the answer possibly never?

I think that within the next ten years the same will be said of the “telephone call”. When did you last make a call of over two minutes, when did you last have a good talk and a natter on the phone?

The human being is getting less gregarious and communicative, people in the bar or their own living room are “on their phones” yes, but they are typing! We have become a national typing pool, a miserable and rather shallow swapper of electrical notes.

So you ask of a friend, “Did you talk to Betty about it?” “Yes all is ok.” No they didn’t, they WhatsApped her, because calling would involve speech and a potential annoying-human personality interaction.

I must admit that a lot of this is not helped by our ever evolving obsession with phone technology and the creation of ideas that are “smarter than they have ever been”. I cite, as Exhibit A, my love of a certain company phone system. It “rotates”, it “transfers”, it “seeks out”, it “automatically transfers”, it does more than any phone system has ever done in history.

I shall set you the scene, I am in Johannesburg, the phone system is so clever that it actually annoys me without me ever using it! I know its issues (believe me this system should get therapy), so I am not going to use the 0800 (toll free number) because I need to talk to someone in the Cape Town office and I don’t want the system to decide that the Cape Town switchboard is busy and then connect me to the board in Port Elizabeth. So I revert to the retro 1990 way, I call my PA on the direct land line and ask her to put me through to the person I am looking for. She, however, trusted the “beast” and transfers me on the “system”, which rings four times and then transfers me to the Durban reception where the efficient Verusha answers. “Hi Verusha” I say, “I was looking for Ryan in Cape Town”, before I can say “ticky box” she has gone back to Ryan but he is one ring too late and my call is then answered by Susan at the Johannesburg reception, (she is actually sat four metres away from me). I say “Susan don’t worry”, I put the phone down walk to reception and say can you just get Ryan on the line, at the same moment Ryan rings her reception to say that Wendy my PA “emailed him” to say she could not get through to him (I tried but was now in Durban or Johannesburg or somewhere in the telephone twilight world) and would he call me in Johannesburg.

At that moment I hated the new “Advanced Phone System”, but then Susan of Johannesburg looked at me blankly as if dealing with a child and said, “Ian, Ryan is actually on extension 2022, don’t you know that if you had simply called that number you would have gone straight through to him in Cape Town?”

At that moment I realised that I decided about 10 years ago to just “not get with it”, and that I would always be behind the technological curve. Rather like that clever coffee machine in the kitchen, the IPod or is it the Apple Pod thing I have in a drawer upstairs, I just don’t get it, need it, or want to really know how it works.

Give me a good “book”, made of real paper (tough luck to the tree), a “deck chair” (not a lounger) and a view. As long as there is a stiff drink beside me and warm sun above I am happy. I did finally get to talk to Ryan, but only for him to confirm that it was not him I needed to talk to, it was someone else. At that point I decided the issue in question was just not important enough to stress over and went and made myself a cup of tea.