During this past Rosh Hashanah service, the rabbi gave an impassioned, if cliched, sermon about technology: “iPhones have made it easier for us to ignore each other! We are merely connecting (or poking or tweeting or whatever “twerking” is) instead of relating!” We’ve all heard it a million times. FaceTime makes it easier for us to avoid face-to-face conversation. Texting and iMessage make it easier than ever for us to say what we have to say to each other without engaging in, well, you know, actual conversation.
If I could, I’d like to take some of the rabbi’s points one step further. And it’s not the iPhone’s fault, even if Apple and Facebook have helped move us along to where we are today on this one: We are, at the highest level possible, a nation of voice mails. It’s never been easier than it is today for us to ignore each other.
Who hasn’t collided headfirst with the guy walking in Manhattan, plugged into his music and deep in iMessage-thought, not looking where he’s going? Who hasn’t left voice mail-after-e-mail-after-voice mail, trying to get a hold of someone, to no avail?
I think our ambivalence toward reaching one another on a personal level doesn’t rest solely on the heels of technology, though. Individuals (along with their digital inboxes) are overworked, overloaded, and underpaid. One person does the work of three people in many areas, from offices to department stores, and staying on top of every individual correspondence isn’t just not a priority; in many cases, it’s impossible.
So what’s the solution? And is it fair to distinguish between making a successful connection at someone’s work as opposed to between friends? Is it possible to get back to the days when we had fewer means of reaching people and yet, undoubtedly made more of an effort to speak to one another? Of course it isn’t.
On the corporate level, there probably should be policies designed to implement more personalized customer service. I’m talking about actually making representatives available when you call, whatever it costs. How about prohibiting employees at CVS from answering customers’ phone calls when customers who actually made the effort to travel to the store stand in line? More personally, how about Apple, Gmail, and Facebook making it easier to stay on top of weeks-old unanswered messages?
As far as reaching people online goes, I think LinkedIn’s got the right idea. For only the monthly cost of their premium service, of course, LinkedIn will ping recipients of your notes until they respond to you. Sort of. In actuality, LinkedIn allots premium users a certain number of “InMail” credits to use per month. InMail credits allow users to message others with whom they may not have personal relationships, refunding those InMail credits if the individuals don’t respond within seven days. It’s a start.
I would love to see the day we move beyond being a nation of voice mails and technology’s never going to stop providing us with new ways to connect with each other, to borrow the rabbi’s phrasing (case-in-point: an episode of Seinfeld from 20 years ago). Technology can’t help us relate to each other, either. That has to be more of a personal priority and I don’t know if I see that ever changing.
I apologize for the aside but I couldn’t resist.