RICHARDS: So much talk, so little to say…

Amy Richards

We are always talking – on the phone, through text, AIM, Skype or Facebook. But how much are we really saying? Is anyone even listening?

For all the times we ask, “How are you?” rarely is it out of genuine concern for someone’s well-being. Of course, these might fall under simple formalities, but why do these exchanges feel ever less empty of meaning or another’s concern? Maybe it has something to do with our preoccupation with something or someone else via our collection of communication devices.

At campus group meetings, we attempt to get to know each other with icebreakers, introductions and fun facts. But at any moment during these sessions, there are a handful of students who are busy texting a friend or are lost in their BlackBerries. What is this urgent business to which everyone is attending? Most of the time, students are simply arranging another meeting, sending a “Hey, what’s up?” to a significant other or checking out the latest feed on Facebook.

What do these students do then when they meet up with the friend they have been texting at their last meeting? As they walk to dinner, one answers the phone while the other starts to text due to the lack of attention from his friend. The whole time, neither friend has looked each other in the eye to talk or really has listened to what the other is saying.

The process continues.

Deny it as we might, these practices take up a great deal of the daily lives of college students. We embrace our rampant phone use, while campus generally condones it.

Correspondence has never been easier. As Americans, we love the constant connection. In fact, most of the world appears to enjoy the new ease with which communication has been made possible.

We have fashioned a demand for being in contact at all hours of the day and cannot imagine life without the luxury of a cell phone.

But how much are we really saying in our endless exchanges?

In the end, the majority of these erratic texts and interrupted conversations are empty of meaning and superficial at best. Meanwhile, our ability to express ourselves has been marginalized by the half sentences and abbreviated txt. msgs. we use to communicate on a regular basis. It appears there is something favorable about a more limited, more human correspondence, one in which a person can participate fully and be attentive to another’s concerns, problems or good news.

Last year, I initiated a penpalship with a study-abroad friend from Colorado. We developed pictures, wrote our letters by hand and sent the packages via snail mail. We were only missing the feather pen and wax seal. The letters were mainly gossip but also allowed us to talk about those things that were truly getting us down or for that matter, up. Each of us would respond with encouragement, concern or just a joke. I anticipated the letters and quickly realized that each held a great deal of meaning. It would have been easy to call or message my friend on Facebook, but there was something intrinsically authentic about waiting a few weeks to hear about one another’s latest adventures or woes. The penpalship was an opportunity to write how we felt and share those emotions that we don’t often articulate in writing or speech.

I would put myself in the minority if I cursed technology, for efficiency is undeniably an asset to society. Still, I hope that efficiency may not be the defining factor of our generation.

As humans, we demand meaningful interactions for our well-being – not “I love you” via text message, dozens of hollow exchanges in the halls or long phone calls while we walk with our friends.

We are social beings, but being connected every hour of every day on our cell phones, BlackBerries and computers, while efficient, will not suffice if we cannot even offer each other the time of day to really talk and listen. So let’s power down every now and then and refresh our browsers with a new, more human face of those people who surround us.


Amy Richards is a senior honors, Spanish and global interdisciplinary studies major from Kings Park, N.Y. She can be reached at [email protected].