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Words From Wiser: The Evolution of Communications…Forward or Backward?

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From Chuck Wiser, 7/30/21

  I write the words to share what my eyes see and my heart feels….

At the beginning of one of my early lectures for the “Graphics” class for Engineering Technology students at Alfred State I would chuckle and say: “I don’t know if our communication skills are progressing or regressing”. After all, we study the cave wall writings which are actually combinations of figures and symbols scratched into the walls or painted with some “plant” pigment. If you’re curious, these are called “Parietal Art” or “Cuneiform Writing”. Moving back to move forward, we now use the same technique when we label our auto dashboard buttons and switches with little symbols and graphics.                           

Our basic communication, not counting television for the purposes of this topic, can be divided into audio, as in speaking or listening, and written, as in writing or reading. I fear that as we improve the mechanics of communication as we evolve technologically; we are regressing, or sacrificing the ability to communicate “effectively”. As an aside, I believe that the most important aspect of audio communication lies in the ability (and willingness) to listen with the intent to actually “hear and understand”, more importantly than thinking about what you want to say.  

Writing, once an artform for some, using “cursive writing” can be quite artistic. If you are an MD, maybe not so much. Sadly, cursive is becoming a thing of the past. As mentioned in an earlier article, I needed to learn how to write in cursive, in order to progress out of the 2nd grade, at what was then Richburg Central School. I am proud to say that I write just like my Mother, as she is the one who taught me. I recently had a young relative tell me that they couldn’t read the note I had written to them as they had not learned cursive. That saddened me.

The history of written communication starts with the laborious hand “lettering” of written missives, then progressing to the socially shared communications and “news reports” in the form of a newspaper. Newspaper publishing dates to the 17th century, spreading into America, somewhat piecemeal, between 1665 until almost 1704, when publishing on a regular basis was credited to “The Boston News-Letter”. I began my daily enjoyment of a newspaper at the age of 10, when I would stand at the edge of the road many a day, to greet “Johnny”, who delivered the Olean Times Herald to our house in Nile, NY. Sadly, the role of the newspaper has diminished greatly over the past few years. Other than us old “diehards”, or some would say dinosaurs, any news reading that occurs these days is via online written, or via news sources linked into some form of social media.

Although verbal communication, however crude, by far pre-dates written communication, cave writing aside, the “audio” aspect of communication via some form of telephone will survive and outlive the printed word. Telephonic devices date back into the 1600’s with a form of “vibration transmitted” voice, between two cans attached with a string.

Although other early forms of phones existed, in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the patent for what was to begin the true evolution of the “telephone age”. The first commercial telephone “toll lines” would come about shortly after, in 1878. By 1904 there were over 3 million phones in use.

Telephonic Evolution milestones: 1878 – 1st U.S. Commercial Toll Lines; 1880’s “Party Lines” came into use; 1960 – Sarah Became Andy Griffith’s Operator; 1973 – 1st Cell Phone; 1983 – 1st Commercial Cell Phone…cost $4000; 1992-1995 – Smart Phones became available. By the end of 2016 over 50% of the population used only cell phone telephonic communication.

Despite the tremendous popularity of cell phone and smart phone technology; ease of use and advanced features and options, there has been a downside to all of this “new age” innovation. While the “method of communication” has improved remarkably, the quality of “understandable communication” has suffered. Many of the older, and all of, the younger generation(s) have begun full communication via their phone. We/they download the news. We/they get their personal dialog via the cell/smart phones, and a significant part of the communication role has migrated to “texting” as opposed to personal conversation.

News reports are now quickly heard or read as “sound bites” (using literary license with the term), often leading to misunderstanding, or lacking full understanding of exactly what was said, meant or written. I have often communicated via a text message wherein I included certain information, only to be asked in the follow up message, the details of which I had already included. This, I think, is a lack of full attention, or of comprehension. The use of “irony” and “sarcasm” has led to much controversy and misunderstanding, due to not seeing or hearing facial expression or voice inflection, even if the cave writing style “emoticon” is used. Misunderstanding and/or missed communication seems to have become the “norm”. If you don’t carry your phone with you, turned on, with beeps and bloops activated to alert or advise of an incoming message, the sending party often either assumes the message was received and understood, or abandons further attempts to reach out to communicate.

The “art of writing”, and it truly can be an art with cursive, is going by the wayside. Written communication, which allow for a more leisurely and in depth understanding of the communication, is being lost. Comprehension suffers.

Social dialogue is becoming minimalized unless you count “Facebook” and therein lies a whole new problem which will not be addressed here.

With gain, comes loss. Also being lost is the access and use of written and published literature, primarily “hands on” book reading. My personal preference is reading a hard copy book. I fully believe in accessing and utilizing the local public libraries, which are in danger of following the dinosaurs into extinction, as public use declines and taxpayer funding gets questioned due to diminished public use. I have been forced to use reading sources such as Kindle occasionally, when absorbed in an author’s “character series” but with only few, or none, of the follow up books available. It just isn’t the same to me.

Do yourself a favor soon, and read a book, or call and have a conversation with a friend.


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