Yesterday, I started blogging about the question: "Is Text Messaging vs. Talking emotionally healthy?"
A couple of weeks ago, lunching with a friend, she confided that she had never spoken on the telephone to her current amour. They communicate entirely by email and on Facebook and Twitter – texting rather than talking to each other or hearing each other's voices.
"But we've had a lot of face-time," she said, sensing, I think, my surprise and dismay.
I must admit I was shocked. Has interpersonal communication – romance – come to this? If it has, how sad.
What's happened to interpersonal communication?
Then last evening CBC broke the story about the University of British Columbia medical research finding a 10-fold increase in the use of atypical antipsychotics in young children – drugs not intended for use in children, not tested with children, and potentially dangerous or even lethal. You should see the comments. They go on for more than 20 pages and counting. Over 100 of them.
First. Let me say that I've taken antipsychotic drugs since the 1960s – though never a steady diet of them. I was given them mostly when I was hospitalized. Sporadically. From Chlorpromazine, also known as "the chemical lobotomy" and Haldol when I was a teenager. Those drugs hit me like a sledgehammer and deadened me emotionally. They also caused side-effects. Facial ticks for which I needed to take another drug, Cogentin. This went on for years, even after I was started on a steady prescription of Lithium at the age of 27 and repeatedly, almost annually hospitalized for mania.
Later, I was given several of the atypical antipsychotic drugs sited in the CBC story – Seroquel and Risperdal – but only "as needed" which turned out to be rather infrequently and only in miniscule doses – and I was in my late 40s and early 50s. I haven't taken or needed any antipsychotic medications of any kind for the last 9 years.
During the early years, the 1960s, I was given these antipsychotic drugs in hospital – never a steady diet of them – because I had episodes of psychosis. I was having delusions and hallucinations. I couldn't sleep. I wasn't thinking clearly. At one time, for four months in hospital, I was catatonic. The psychotic episodes started when I was 17 years of age.
At no time, to the best of my knowledge, did I ever "act out" in school or become violent or threaten a teacher or another student. Members of my family described me as "histrionic" – dramatic, theatrical, emotional, larger-than-life. Attention-seeking. Clearly, I did not conform.
It occurred to me that there may a connection between my original question regarding "texting versus talking" and young children today – why they're acting out so violently and being prescribed drugs that could seriously and permanently hurt them. Drugs that numb them emotionally but do nothing to get at the real reasons causing their behaviour.
Something is very wrong. It's all wrapped up, I believe, in our ultimate loss of humanity. The change in the nature of our interpersonal communications. Our social world. People are using their eyes, but what about their ears and their hearts? Listening, actively, intelligently, emotionally and with empathy?
The difference between animals and humans is that humans can talk to each other. Animals can't. Animals communicate, but they don't use words and spoken language, and they don't engage in verbal conversation or thoughtful, rational, articulated, cerebral communication with each other.
The keyword is engage. You cannot call texting talking because it's not. Nor is email. They're both toneless. Flat. Dead. There's no real spark. No real human excitement or demand for live, engrossing, involving, absorbing, demanding thought, articulation, conversation. Simultaneously and emotionally.
There's no engagement. Think about what's happening. Instead of talking with each other, more and more people are texting. What does that mean?
Rick Pukis, an associate professor of communications at Augusta State University, has said that texting may affect the way we interact with each other. In one of many articles on how communication is breaking down, written in August 2008, Pukis states, "Text messaging has made us a very impersonal society today. People are not communicating, not using facial expression, like smiling so when they get back into a situation where they're talking to someone, they don't smile."
We may be constantly "connecting" but are we "communicating"?
In that same article, William Shea, a university student, adds that he "feels widespread cell phone use and text-messaging is hurting human communication, not helping it. "Rather than face interpersonal dealings head on, we can hide behind our phone until we can talk at our convenience – or not talk at all.'" People can text instead, which is not well-thought out sentences, but abbreviated communication which can be problematic when trying to express our feelings, he says.
"Is there a real problem with replacing 'you' with 'u'? It isn't as though we are going to forget how to spell the word, but we may forget how to communicate in intelligent, thought-out sentences," Shea said.
We may be forgetting or never learning how to engage in real, thoughtful, articulated, nuanced interpersonal conversations about ideas – live speech. Interactive, real, emotionally coloured communication. If you can't articulate your feelings, what do you do, I wonder? Do you know who you really are?
Communication takes practice. Conversation is an art. Who's teaching that? Twitter? Facebook? MySpace? Email? Even if it's in real time?
If you're a young kid, without a way to "process" your feelings verbally, to understand and express them accurately, to be heard and listened to, you can get so frustrated you lash out and act out. If you're used to engaging with a computer or cellphone – an inanimate object – I guess you don't get any practice in dealing with real emotions in a thoughtful rational human interpersonal way. That can cause anxiety, stress, frustration, anger. Built up emotions that explode when you're confronted with someone who doesn't respond to you the way you want or expect them to.
Telephones, even landlines and not cellphones, I suggest, have their purposes.
The first contact I had in July 1999 with the man that I married almost nine years ago was a voicemail message quickly followed by a telephone call. His voice mail message was lovely, but it was our live telephone conversation that did me in.
In a split second, I fell in love with the sound of his voice. It was, and remains, a deep, resonant, smooth and warm bass inflected with his charming sense of fun. The most mellifluous voice I've ever heard.
When I asked him, thinking he was around my age, how old he was, he quipped, "I'm 63, but I don't know how I got here."
So he's 13 years older than I. Who cares about numbers with a man of such wit? I adored him even more and desperately wanted to meet him, which I did the following week. It was love at first sight and in about three weeks, we'll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of that meeting. We've never looked back.
How can one gauge sincerity, warmth, charm through bald black words on a white screen? With emotions? Give me a break.
I venture to guess that had this exchange happened not on the telephone, but on email or Facebook, I would never have considered going out with him in the first place. That number – 63 – would have scared me off.
Today, I cannot imagine my life without him. And the sound of his voice still thrills me.
First of all, the whole notion of "play" has changed dramatically. Socialization of children has changed. I think it's been sacrificed so that kids can accelerate through school. Before they're physically and mentally developed to handle the material they're expected to absorb.
When I was in nursery school and kindergarten in the early 1950s, we played. We socialized. In the sand box and outside in the fresh air. We had naps on mats and had snacks – juice and cookies. We played musical instruments like the triangle and drums. We finger painted and did lots of arts and crafts. We had recess. It was fun.
Now kids go into day care and then nursery school and junior kindergarten and their childhood is compressed. They start learning numbers and the alphabet long before they hit grade one. After school, they're rarely if ever are allowed to run freely around their neighbourhoods playing simple games without constant supervision. Understandable, but sad. Neighbourhoods have become dangerous for kids.
Also, kids see their parents on computers for hours and are given play computers at the earliest of ages. They mimic their parents. They watch more television. Computers can become their closest companions and by the time they can use a real one, they often are.
Between video games and then later on, email, they learn to engage with a machine far more easily than they do with each other. Play is about free engagement. Being social. Face-to-face social. Talking and engaging social activities together.
But, many children, not all, are denied that unless their parents actively plan "play-dates" – a term that didn't exist when I was a kid.
Free, social engagement – not planned activities and lessons – seems to have diminished enormously today. I won't even begin, as well, on all the nutritional changes – the fast foods and processed foods – that have replaced the home made-from-scratch meals that I was given throughout my childhood. Balanced meals. In my case, my histrionic behaviour cannot be blamed on nutrition or the lack of play and/or the lack of a loving, caring, stay-at-home mother. I'm still histrionic, by the way. That's my nature.
Too much has changed and we're not much happier. In fact recent research has shown that women are less happy than they've been in years.
With the advent of digital technology, the computer, the cellphone, voicemail, email, Facebook and the subsequent demise of what we used to call interpersonal communication and the lost art of conversation, children are invariably being seriously affected along with their parents.