The impact the telephone has had on the world in today’s context hasn’t been fully explored. As far as advancing human communication and making the world a smaller place, there can be little argument over the impact the invention has had on society.
It’s easy to forget, not so long ago, telephones were only used for making and receiving calls. And because they were not mobile, you had to be present, waiting by the phone when someone wanted to call you. Likewise, when you called someone, there was no guarantee they were home to answer it.
I remember growing up in the 1960s and 70s, to take advantage of the cheaper rates, my Dad would wait until later at night to make ‘long-distance calls’ to family and friends in other parts of the country. Although the distance was less than 1 000 kilometres, it was considered ‘long distance.’ The call would be booked through a central switchboard, who would dial up your intended guest, call you back, and connect you. Usually the whole family would gather around the phone to get a chance to talk.
Back then, home telephones had their own spot in the house, usually on a telephone table. Our telephone table was in our dining room. Making calls to the family whom you rarely see, was a special occasion. The telephone was only used when needed. Local calls were a waste as you could quite easily see the person face-to-face. Children rarely needed, or wanted, to use the telephone.
Even with local calls, you made sure you knew what you want to say because the opportunity to speak again could be days or weeks away. This meant conversations were more meaningful and filled with purpose. The greetings and goodbyes were heartfelt and genuine. The telephone was not an abused instrument that invaded privacy. In fact, calling during dinner-time was bad manners. There was a level of respect for its role in our lives, its importance adding to our perception of its scarcity.
Look around at how many folks are staring down at their mobile phones. Whether you are in a queue at the bank, waiting for your flight at the airport, or riding on the train. People are looking down, eyes glued to their screen. In restaurants, you can see four people sitting at one table, all on their phones. Communication face-to-face is declining and conversations via WhatsApp or direct mail are increasing.
In the 70s there was a famous study in which researchers concluded that our non-verbal cues play a large part in how we perceive what is being said. Respondents based their assessments of the credibility of the speaker on three factors:
- Body language
- Voice tone and cadence
- The actual words themselves.
Although the experiment has some detractors over the years, the findings still hold significant insights.
- 55% weighting to Body Language
- 38% to the Tone and ‘Music’ of their voice
- 7% to the Actual Words.
Speaking to one another face-to-face activates all three communication cues. When you use the telephone to speak to someone, you have eliminated 93% of how to ‘hear’ properly. The likelihood is questionable of a WhatsApp message being understood that is hurriedly typed out using a thumb and sent while driving.
We tend to be more open and authentic when we are together in person. We can find out more about the real person, not the façade we see on social media, but the ‘whole’ person. There is no substitute for human contact, but the smartphone sells the illusion of being ‘together.’ As Sherry Turkle says in her TED Talk,
Billions of people are ‘alone together.’
She goes on, “Without conversation, studies show that we are less empathic, less connected, less creative, and less fulfilled.”
I implore you, once in a while take the risk to look up from your phone and start a conversation. You may feel a little vulnerable at first. But remember both parties’ benefits. You both learn more about what makes you human and can share and celebrate that humanity.
Have an awesome weekend! 😄