Technology and the Lost Art of Communication

technology and the lost art of communication

On the number one tram from Delft to Sheveningen beach last week things felt rather festive. It was a hot Summer’s day as the tram snaked through The Hague, collecting old age pensioners, a party of school children on a day trip, and students on their way to the seaside.

Inside the tram temperatures and noise levels rose steadily as passengers stood squeezed together in the aisle and doorways.

Conversations with Strangers

Even though it was hot and crowded, it felt as if we were on our way to a celebration. People were chatting, strangers were smiling at each other, school children were laughing and talking excitedly.

At first I couldn’t work out what was so unusual about this experience. I was enjoying the buzz and watching everyone enjoying their journey so much.

And then it hit me. Nobody on the tram was plugged into their iPod or mp3 player, nobody was talking on the phone. The people on the tram were all talking to and engaged with each other!

Technology on London Public Transport

In a big city like London, where space is at a premium and you’re constantly dealing with other peoples’ noise, blocking out other people is almost a survival instinct. Travelling around the city on public transport, I’m used to listening to podcasts or checking Facebook on my iPhone. Look around any train carriage and almost everyone is looking intently at the smart phone in their hand, oblivious to the people around them.

Every Londoner knows that it is not the done thing to talk on the Tube – we leave that to the tourists. And on buses, the only people who speak are old age pensioners and school children.

In general, we keep quiet, plugged in, safe in our own little bubbles, not wanting or needing to engage with strangers and in many ways, trying as hard as possible to pretend that they’re not even there.

But I wonder if we’ve taken things too far?

Have we Lost the Art of Communication?

Are we now relating to our gadgets and technology far more than to our fellow human beings?  And in an age where we have so many communication methods and devices available to us, are we forgetting how to communicate with each other face-to-face?

Mobile Phones and Relationships

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen people together in cafes and restaurants not talking to each other, but talking to other people on their mobile phones or texting. It appears as though they’re not interested in the one they’re physically with, but in whoever they can communicate with via technology.

Before Mobile Phones

For a moment on that tram to Scheveningen I felt as if I’d made a new discovery. Then I remembered travelling on the bus with my mother and grandmother as a child and enjoying listening to the conversations they struck up with fellow passengers.

That was how things were before the invention of mobile phones – people used to talk to each other. People were interested in the people they were with. People engaged with each other, in the moment. Face-to-face conversation was so normal back then we didn’t even have a term for it– it was just what you did when you weren’t talking to someone on the telephone.

Technology and the Lost Art of Communication

While I am a fan of technology and love my smartphone as much as the next person, I believe that mobile phones are affecting the quality of our relationships. Perhaps if we put them away and engaged with the people around us, every train, bus and tube ride would feel like a celebration with friends.

Further reading:
Social Distraction: Mobile Phones and Relationships

Photo: Thanks to David Roseborough on Flickr

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