When Did We Start (I Mean Stop) Talking?

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Dec 8, 2016
This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.

Humans began talking as early as 2.5 million years ago. It might have been groans and grunts, but humans were using their facial expressions and vocal cords to communicate and connect.

Talking is a unique human ability: logical thought is dependent on words. We are special animals to say the least, given the ability to combine a limited number of words in such a way that they can express an infinite number of messages. We have been given this beautiful musical instrument, our voice; yet, we don’t seem to use it anymore.

(I will be speaking more about this at the Spring 2017 ERE conference, themed The Future of Talent Acquisition, in April in San Diego.)

Consider these numbers and recall the days when picking up a phone and making a call seemed the most natural way to communicate.

  • Americans spend 26 minutes per day texting and only six minutes on calls.
  • 1 out of every 4 people socializes more online than in person
  • 32 percent of people would rather text you than talk to you
  • a whopping 51 percent of teens would rather communicate digitally than in person
  • People worldwide will send 8.3 trillion text messages annually, almost 16 million messages per minute

The telephone call is a dying breed of communication. This non-vocal trend began with the onset of the Internet. Millennials today would prefer to receive a text over a phone call. However, when that chit-chat goes, so do interpersonal skills. Having a conversation with another person teaches us to think and reason and self-reflect. These skills are disappearing and human communication is getting short-changed.

Have we lost touch with humanity? Are we leaning on computers as replacements for memory, replacements for thinking, and replacements for companionship? Contemplate this when you look out of a window: you perceive millions of variances in color, perspective, sound, and feeling. Conversely, when you gaze at a smartphone, you’re sensing just a few variables, and with email and SMS you may barely be using your senses. That could pose a problem in the long run for future human development because the brain becomes focused on particular senses and inputs that are not representative of the natural world.

The instantaneous nature of search engines makes people less likely to ask thoughtful questions and seek out meaningful answers. As a serial entrepreneur frequently tasked with hiring incredible talent fast, I often wonder if I am so focused on the technology I use that I am missing significant nuances gleaned only from actual face-to-face interaction. After all, true connections cannot be made without eye contact during a conversation or an interview.

I recently bought a pack of question cards that gave me an excuse to connect with my four teenagers. The cards, called the Ungame, create an experience of connection, facilitating more authentic and satisfying conversation. My teens leave the game feeling surprised at how enlivened and bonded they feel.

We all hunger for this meaningful connection with each other, and we are all capable of it. Many of us just haven’t spent much time speaking and listening from the depth of ourselves in our regular socializing, so we don’t quite realize that it’s possible. But creating connections undiluted by technology in its many forms is still within our grasp. The human condition is defined by our yearning to understand and be understood, to reach out to others, and feel a sense of camaraderie. And it’s beautiful.

This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.
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