Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Telephone Anxiety

Umpqua Bank, Napa, California, USA

February 5, 2020

This essay, Telephone Anxiety, is the sequel to Looking Down: The Trouble With Social Media.

I am indebted to Marielle Adegran Rutherford who inspired this conversation.

You could tell they were on a date, two teenagers walking into the coffee shop where I was sitting, writing. It's a place I like to be. It works for me. It's quiet. They have comfy chairs, and I can get bottomless cups of decaf which they nuke  for me (if it doesn't burn my lip, it's not hot enough - I'm not partial to luke-warm brew). They sat at a table and took out their smartphones ... then both proceeded to thumb-type for about an hour. That was their entire date: no talking, no eye-contact, just thumb-typing. "What was your date with Johnny like, my dear?". "It was great Dad. We had coffee and thumb-typed together for about an hour. He's so cool.".

Wild & Wolf Retro 746 Telephone in Red

Photograph courtesy
Clearly I'm old school. There's no denying that. I admit it. Things change. Trends change. We have to keep up with the times. But this isn't a trivial change. This is a diminution of what it is to be fully human. Open, verbal face-to-face communicating is the very essence of what human beings do. It makes us what we are. Now we're at risk of becoming little more than extensions of our smartphones. Tech companies rake in billions, towards which we complicitly contribute our humanity (and our privacy) at no charge. We're simply giving all of it away.

Truly authentic communication, like writing, is learned. We're now in a new tech era in which learning authentic communication, like cursive script, is being completely devalued. But its successor, social media posting, is no substitute. It doesn't exercise the "being human" muscle - not even close. It's Mc-Communication whose screen conveys no verbal cues, nor any tonal clues, both of which are apparent in (indeed which make up the gist of) face-to-face communication. At least telephone communication and two-way video communication have them.

Face-to-face communication, telephone communication, and two-way video communication are immediate, unedited, in-the-moment, unscripted, spontaneous, raw. Unlike postings, they can't be pre-vetted. There's no censuring nor censoring. The immediacy of real communication (the intimacy of it) is something that's learned. Confronted with the inability to be immediate and intimate in communication (simply given the lack of practice which is usurped by social media) there's now evidence of a growing anxiety about communicating directly. It's costing us our humanity. That's a terrible price to pay.

What's worse is it can also cost us our access to transformation. Transformation is constituted in speaking. Without speaking there's no transformation (and no, it's not constituted in thumb-typing). The cost of the expediency of social media is too high. And that doesn't start to address social media as a platform for fabricated truth. One well-known social media giant treats both the truth and private data as malleable. There, untruth is traded for billions (in face-to-face communication, untruth can at least be confronted). Who can be surprised by the current epidemic of telephone anxiety? We've ceded our ability to communicate directly, to the social media apps.

I visit a friend. "Where's the family?" I ask. "Watching a movie together" he says. Well ... no. Mom's on the sofa watching a movie, their two children sit at her sides, both wearing headphones, each gazing at laptop screens. It's no family movie time. It's not even a shared experience - aside from them sitting on the couch together.

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