Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Evils of Communication

For my environmental ethics course I read an article called “Sharing One Skin: Okanagan Community,” by Jeanette Armstrong. The whole article is worth checking out, as it details the Okanagan way of life, which sounds a lot nicer than mainstream society. One aspect really stuck with me. She says,

I see the thrust of technology into our daily lives, and I see the ways we subvert emotional ties to people by the use of communications that serve to depersonalize. I see how television, radio, telephone and now computer networks create ways to promote depersonalized communication. We can sit in our living rooms and be entertained by extreme violence and destruction and be detached from the suffering of the people. We can call on the phone or send e-mail to someone we may never speak to in person.
Through technology there is a constant deluge of people who surround us but with whom we have no real physical or personal link, so we feel nothing toward them. We can end up walking over a person starving or dying on the street and feeling nothing, except perhaps curiosity. We can see land being destroyed and polluted and not worry as long as it’s not on our doorstep. But when someone is linked to us personally, we make decisions differently. We try harder to assist because we care about them.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to relate this depersonalization to consumerism. Technology disconnects us from each other, and we are offered ways to fill this void through clever marketing. We see what we want, what we are missing: happy families, friends laughing, lovers loving. We are told that they are this way because of a product. We want the product, we buy the product, the product fails to deliver, we see more ads, we buy more products, we experience more disappointment, lather, rinse, repeat. Many of us work too hard and too long at jobs we don’t like. Why? So we have money to buy the things that are supposed to make us happy. If we enjoy our jobs, life will be that much more enjoyable, thus we’ll need less retail therapy, we won't have to work as much, and we'll have more time for what else makes us happy.

How do we break the cycle? Do what makes us happy! Truly happy!! When we can, ignore what doesn’t (ie: paying bills=necessary, jerks=unnecessary!). Resist false promises (skinniness doesn't=happiness, cosmo isn't the relationship bible). Whenever possible, take life less seriously, sit back, enjoy.

In a few of my communication studies classes at McMaster we discussed the effects of modern communications technologies on our interpersonal skills. Do new methods of communication that are meant to bring us closer together actually hinder our relationships?

Personally, I feel like my reliance on text messages, social networking, and IMs has seriously hindered my “real life” communication skills. I avoid using the phone whenever possible, watch far more TV and movies than I should, and often feel socially inept when I don't have the ability to sit back and think about my answer before carefully crafting a typed response.

I was worried that my social awkwardness would be an issue when I traveled to Europe in April, but I survived! I was constantly out in the “real world,” interacting with people and learning about different cultures. I didn’t have my cocoon of the internet’s impersonal communication and endless supply of night-in-worthy entertainment, and I loved it! If only my everyday life in the “real world” could be like that. I’m reluctant to give up Facebook and MSN because they make keeping in touch and making plans so gosh darn easy! Instead, I need to modify my use of these things to have a MUCH smaller role in my life. Taking distance courses makes drifting off into endless video streaming, online shopping (which right now is only dreaming...), and the magical world of Facebook all too natural. And completely destroys any hopes of productivity. My solution: changes of scenery. If I trek all the way to the library, I feel obligated to be productive, and if I set up my laptop and all my books on the porch in the backyard, I feel motivated. Hopefully being more focused on school will help to wean myself off wasting time online, and allow me to appreciate my spare time more!