Sarah Morgan

Healthcare Geek.
Professional Communicator.


Keeping in Touch – Or Losing It?

Last week I found this little book, Heidegger, Habermas and the Mobile Phone, from my thesis shelf – and this in it, which grabbed me especially hard after my recent post (Texting and the Decline and Fall of Independence):

“For Habermas, a society that arranged its affairs by exchanging 20 or 30 messages an hour (in the background) would soon forget what is involved in a meaningful expression – how much can be said, how much should be said. Such a society would be ‘pathological’:

Such communication pathologies can be conceved of as a result of a confusion between actions oriented to reaching understanding and actions oriented to success.

In the ’30-an-hour’ message world, success is the aim. You say as little as possible to make sure you get what you want as fast as you can. Fine in some circumstances. But if a whole society took this as the height of good communication, then it would, in Habermas’s view, lose touch with the deeper sense of communication which has played a fundamental role in human evolution to this point.”

This is amazingly prophetic, because this was published nine years ago. The idea that just because we’re communicating faster doesn’t mean we are communicating better isn’t news. But this, for me, is the kick in the teeth: that if we get to where that’s all we do, we’ll lose something primal about what it means to be human.

We who “have techno-joy” sometimes shy away from admitting that allowing yourself to “exchange 20 or 30 messages an hour (in the background)” is highly imperfect. But there it is.

From an efficacy point of view, you’re not giving your full attention to what you’re trying to accomplish – the conversation itself, or driving, or making lunch or whatever. This may not matter. If your PB&J is messy, and you don’t care, so what?

From a personal point of view, you’re not giving your full attention to the people you’re interacting with. Again, though: if the other person is aware of this and is fine with it, fine. For instance, when we IM at work to ask for information or share a link, we know we’re each focusing on other things, and nobody has expectations of deep conversation.

The thing Myerson is focusing on here is not just that when we choose to live in a “rapid background exchange” mode, we’re consciously abdicating full responsibility. Because sometimes, in some situations, that is okay. His point is more powerful – if we get to a point where we all do that all the time, that’s when we “lose touch”. And is that worth it? Could anything be worth losing “the deeper sense of communication which has played a fundamental role in human evolution”?


Jose Bay

What I meant is we jump to conclusions, whether we admit it or not. Stereotypes abound in the mass media, & we are too civilised to get to the real heart of the matter cos it’s inconvenient, messy & hard work. We play societal & psychic given roles in our life: I’m a victim one hour, to I’m a lover the next, to totally losing self esteem. The blunt raw questions of attachment or a worth of something/someone is wrapped up in PR/PC conventions of ‘thou shall not offend’.

We may go to sleep once a fortnight feeling inadequate of unfulfilled, with or without a partner/job/assets – simply because someone ignored us on Facebook, twitter or a blog…or worse we got jealous of a cyber friend in those domains & by his/her random self promo advertisements. I’m not saying I’m tapping into wide reality here, but how come so many films or books have that ‘couple who has it all but are still incomplete, so swerve of the course of life’?

Sarah Morgan

Jose, I’m awfully sorry, but even in paying 100% attention to your reply I’m not sure I understand it… am I really what?

I do like the word “shallow” to describe it all though. It has exactly the right connotations.

Jose Bay

Spot on! Now tune off & go do your other chores while you 10% pay attention to my reply! I’ll be blunt & quick. I give up trying to ‘win’ your attention ever since 2005 (are you really?)…

Life is about ‘snippets’, ‘snapshots’ & ‘power tidbits’ of data not at all similar to the main news bulletin after 6pm. There: I said it. Life goes on – at a shallow hundred million miles an hour.

Darn those sociologists inventing the phrase ‘instant gratification’ & ‘procrastination’. When sociologists breaks up with his/her GF/BF he/she can fall back on other Facebook choices .

Leave A Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.