Back in June I wrote a blog based on the sign "Sorry, we don't have Wi-Fi, talk to each other instead".
I touched on the fact that our heads are often buried in our phones instead of being engaged with the people around us.
There's more to it than that: our need to be 'connected' pretty much all the time can get in the way of our really communicating. A study two years ago concluded that people check their phones 150 times a day - bet it's more now. What are we checking for?
What about our behaviour on the phone?
There seems to be a blurring of communication boundaries when we are on our phones - almost as though it's our right to speak where and when we want to: when we're driving, when we're ordering food or paying at a check-out, when we're walking with a partner, when we're on the loo, when we're playing with the kids.
It seems that what's on the other end of the phone is more important than what's in front of us.
This form of communication seems to reflect our busy lives (or our desire to appear to have busy lives). I'm aware that I can chat back and forth to someone via one of my devices and never get into anything particularly meaningful. It's all very pleasant but it's a bit like eating a meal of crisps.
There was a time in my life when I wrote letters; lots of letters. Letters to family and friends, letters to the editors of papers, to the Secretary General of the UN, to the various politicians I had or hadn't vote for, to people I admired - writers, musicians and artists.
Paper, pen, envelopes and stamps. I loved writing letters and I allowed myself to express my thoughts and feelings in ways that I don't anymore other than certain emails to very close friends.
There is something about the ritual of preparing and sitting down and writing which opened up my creativity and I found I was really articulate and clear when I wrote letters.
I hardly do that anymore. I send the occasional letter but now it's email and Twitter. And in turn I rarely receive any letters; aside from Birthday and Christmas cards, the post these days is magazines, brochures, junk mail, and the occasional bill if I'm not paying by Direct Debit.
I remember how I used to anticipate the post wondering what goodie or surprise might be included. And the days when there were two deliveries a day! My goodness, twice the opportunity for anticipation.
I'm not knocking email or Twitter or any of the other forms of social media we use. I'm not knocking the fact that we rely on our devices in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. As a matter of fact, immensely important events have happened because of our reliance on instant communication through calls to arms, campaigns to right wrongs, petitions, etc.
On a more day to day level, our lives are often less stressful because we can let a loved one know we'll be late home or we can ring the AA to say the car's broken down or we can make sure the right person is picking up the right child at the right time and place.
What we need to be more cautious about is that now there's far more opportunity for our communication to go pear-shaped than ever before.
I suppose the question comes down to what we mean by communication. What seems to be happening is that often we communicate at a surface level or if not at a surface level, at such a pace we don't often consider the impact of our words. With texting and tweeting, we operate with short-hand that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted quite easily.
Because we receive tsunami-like waves of information 24/7 we are also quick to respond as though our lives depended upon it. Emails are shot off with little thought to content or grammar or heaven-forefend, spelling. The number of situations we have heard on our training courses of the trouble people have gotten into because they fired off emails in the heat of the moment or tweeted a response to something without having the whole picture is increasing a lot.
Given that we're only going to be inventing more channels for faster communication (sic), then it isn't about undoing what's already here (with all their wonderful benefits) but changing our relationship with it all.
We are the ones who have to slow down, be more considerate, respond with care, email with thoughtfulness, jump to conclusions less and be more attentive. In a word, be more mindful of the impact our connectedness is having on our communication.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory