The state of communication

My sister-in-law, Sally, is a big Groupon fan. She invited us to dinner on Saturday night at a trendy little restaurant in an area of trendy nightspots. This place had sofas and ottomans clustered around low coffee tables rather than traditional dining tables and chairs. It was more comfortable for casual conversation than formal dining. There were not that many other diners, and nearly all had printouts from Groupon with them, leading me to believe the restaurant was not doing well. Most of the other patrons were trendy young couples of well-groomed women and their male companions with carefully tended bedheads.

I mention this because as a married man with a young child I don’t get out to trendy places very often. The thing that struck me the most was that all of these trendy youngsters were more occupied with their electronic devices – phones and iPads – than with their dates. I was out of the dating game before I got my first mobile phone. But I never brought an Etch A Sketch with me on a date to play around with during dinner. On a positive note, some of the couples were engaged with the same device, rather than each going his or her own electronic way.

Sunday afternoon found me browsing YouTube (though I was not on a date). As usually happens with YouTube I ended up in an unexpected corner of cyberspace far astray from where I started. I found myself watching clips from the old TV series “What’s My Line.” In this show a panel of four celebrities are blindfolded and have to ask yes/no questions to try to guess the identity of a celebrity guest. Some of the mystery guests were star architect Frank Lloyd Wright, jazz great Louis Armstrong, comedian Jerry Lewis, basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, and hot babe Raquel Welch. I was struck by how well-dressed, articulate, and gracious all of these people were. It seemed like they were not only from another age, but from another planet! I wonder whether any of the bedheads sitting around the coffee tables had even heard of any of these famous people.

I am not going to say communication is dead. It is alive and well, but very different. Fifty years ago people communicated for depth, exploring a subject for several minutes or more at a time. Now it’s more about breadth, about how many apps we can experience in a short span of time. Conversation is superficial, as it must be in the few seconds devoted to it before the subject, channel, or medium changes.

We’re all products of our times, and times are changing faster and faster. Change will continue ever more rapidly, and that will not change. I can’t imagine what the next generation will be like. I just know they will adapt just fine, and they will leave the bedheads’ heads spinning.