With all the newly hatched methods of interpersonal communication, the best system may still be face-to-face conversations. What is called “social media” – Facebook, where both parties punch texts into their own gadgets, and Twitter, where a snappy reply pretends to take the place of well-thought-out discourse – doesn’t measure up to a good face-to-face conversation. Donald Trump would be better off today had he cancelled his Twitter account months ago. While he has used that device in an attempt to extricate himself from a number of serious holes, he has only succeeded in deepening the grave.
The other day, I had a 45-minute argument in which only one of the parties lost control and ended up flinging his arms around, pointing his fingers and producing more decibels than solid points. I hate to admit it, but this irrational antagonist was yours truly! While I raved on, my opponent never raised his voice but was calm for the duration of the dispute. While my blood pressure escalated to near-stroke level, my adversary’s demeanor never wavered.
Have I told you that I was arguing with a machine? Or maybe it was with a series of machines? I had called the online service of a well-known retail firm hoping to ask a question about a small order. The machine that answered the phone directed me to select a number from one to eight by which I would be directed to someone who would respond to my inquiry.
I pushed “5,” believing this number came the closest to what I was seeking. Did I get a person? No sir! What I got was another machine that laid another multiple-choice option on me.
This process went on through four more generations of non-answers, until I was finally asked if I wanted to be switched to personal representative. Was I really about to talk to a human? No such luck. Somebody had once told me that the way to get out of this trap was to push “0” multiple times, and a flesh-and-blood human would suddenly materialize. So I did, and I got the same mechanical idiot with a pleasant voice informing me that I had arrived back at the main menu.
Completely out of sorts, I hung up the phone and made my way to the nearest retail outlet –an option I should have taken from the beginning—or so I concluded. This shop did not have the brand and model I was looking for in stock and directed me to contact their online service. Do you need me to tell you what happened when I tried that approach?
Some time ago, I was attending an international conference in Brazil in which most of the delegates were from Latin America. At that time, I didn’t know a word of Spanish, let alone Portuguese – now I know about 10 in the in one language and still none in the other. The presentations were all in Spanish, but I was able to pick up what was taking place because I had arrived with a bilingual friend who acted as my interpreter. Later that evening, over refreshments, I found myself seated by a delegate to the meeting who didn’t speak a word of English. We communicated for an hour, and I can tell you the details of the entire conversation. However, had we been reduced to texting each other in our own languages, neither of us would have understood a thing.
I admit to being a lover of gadgets. I have a computer, a smart phone, a tablet and a Kindle, but am barely literate on how to use any of them. I know a number of people whose diet is gluten free, and a couple of wise friends who are totally electronic-gadget free. When we meet, we engage in marvelous conversations. That is probably the way interpersonal discourse is meant to be.