“We’re more connected than ever, and yet we’ve never been so alone.” Blah blah blah. Insert comic strip depicting a millennial with posture ruined by the gravitational pull of an iPhone, as appropriate. Maybe a coffee shop chalkboard informing customers that there is no wifi and that they’ve to talk to each other. With their faces.
This line of thinking is, obviously, entirely inane and a discussion better suited to a think piece in 2014. But it might be a tired, flimsy springboard from which we can reach new branches of thought. The digital world may not be as destructive as the Daily Mail would have you believe, but it could shine a light on the parts of us which are unchangingly fleshy and human.
If what the anti-smartphone community says is true, with today’s society obsessing over Tweeters and Grimstagrams, surely the way we talk to each other should have become somewhat standardised. And yet that’s not at all the case. Our interpersonal communications are just as messy, unskilled, and unpredictable as ever – it just might happen over an instant message or a text, and someone evidently dragged here from the underworld decided to introduce read receipts as an emotionally distressing bonus. But while we can get in touch with anyone we like in a matter of seconds, communication emerges as a very much separate practice.
Communication involves a lot of time spent explaining things in painstaking detail, watching helplessly as it goes right over the head of the recipient, and reacting one of two ways – becoming frustrated with their complete refusal to engage with you, or understanding that even the most similar of people can have communication styles which are worlds apart. Those styles might need a lot of work and understanding to fit together effectively, or they may just be entirely incompatible. Technology hasn’t changed this.
And just as I am someone who interacts with others on social media daily, I am also a woman obsessed with transparency. I crave authenticity in my relationships, and become positively giddy when I get to know someone who will instinctively lay everything out on the table without being pressured to do so. As a fairly intuitive person with a sometimes debilitating habit of reading between the lines, I feel refreshed when communication is as straightforward as possible.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not someone for whom all social conventions and manners go out the window in favour of ‘just being real’. There are people who champion honesty to prop up their own obnoxiousness and wear their bluntness like a medal. I am a slave to Grice’s Cooperative Principle (shout out to that linguistics degree, currently gathering dust), and hopefully a nice enough person. But I have a preoccupation with productivity, in terms of my relationships more than anything else, and dancing around a point or allowing things to go unsaid causes me to spiral into a self doubting rut.
I’m loyal – unwisely so at times – and it takes a hell of a lot for me to completely shut down on a person, but lying is one way to have me remove myself from you entirely. Truth, authenticity, communicative efficiency, all my favourite things. But I often wonder why, if I was always this way inclined, or if it’s something I grew into. After a few years of compulsive introspection, I have concluded it to be a result of two things: experience and anxiety.
The former is rather self explanatory. Extensive experience in getting less than the truth, and fighting it hard, meant that moving forward complete transparency was a priority of mine. Knowing people who don’t communicate the way we need them to can sometimes be the most informative, most beneficial-to-personal-development way to see your blood pressure reach dangerous levels. When we learn about others, we in turn learn about ourselves.
The latter is something which drives everything I do. I cannot leave something left unsaid or unquestioned, as it will very quickly become an echo bouncing around the caverns of my skull. Sensing that someone isn’t being entirely upfront with me on something significant can result in a loss of appetite. Shrugging something off, pledging to worry about it at a later date when I’m more at liberty to do something about it, is not a privilege my brain chemistry allows me. This is where I feel like something of a contradiction (testimonals include “an open book” and “very guarded, difficult to get to know”). Sure, I’m going to be anxious about this one situation, but my anxiety will also make me hyper aware of everything I do and thus unable to broach the subject for fear of appearing, y’know, not chill.
I am also completely averse to conflict. It generally terrifies me. There are maybe a couple of people who I can call out comfortably, without feeling that uncomfortable layer of awkwardness descend upon me, but self doubt and a desire for harmony will almost always win out.
It is as a result of this need for transparency that I tend to weave my own vulnerability into more interactions than I probably need to. I’m far less likely to hold my cards to my chest in an act of self preservation, instead laying them out for the other person and hoping they don’t take advantage. Wanting everyone to be on the same page means a lot of unnecessary sacrifice on my part – but, in that moment, I will feel a weight lifted off me and if it backfires later on, I’ll view it as a reflection on the other person’s character rather than my own. I’m still working on locating that middle ground, because hey – communication is messy. We can all do better.
Mostly, I value time. The people around us, and the time we have to curate these relationships, is too limited to waste treating conversation like a game – whether face to face or while miles apart. We have language and we have complicated, fluctuating, enriching, carefully crafted relationships with each other. Both are brilliant, and it will always be my priority to use one to benefit the other.