Last week I found this little book, Heidegger, Habermas and the Mobile Phone, from my thesis shelf – and this in it, which grabbed me especially hard after my recent post (Texting and the Decline and Fall of Independence):
“For Habermas, a society that arranged its affairs by exchanging 20 or 30 messages an hour (in the background) would soon forget what is involved in a meaningful expression – how much can be said, how much should be said. Such a society would be ‘pathological’:
Such communication pathologies can be conceved of as a result of a confusion between actions oriented to reaching understanding and actions oriented to success.
In the ’30-an-hour’ message world, success is the aim. You say as little as possible to make sure you get what you want as fast as you can. Fine in some circumstances. But if a whole society took this as the height of good communication, then it would, in Habermas’s view, lose touch with the deeper sense of communication which has played a fundamental role in human evolution to this point.”
This is amazingly prophetic, because this was published nine years ago. The idea thatÂ just because we’re communicating faster doesn’t mean we are communicating better isn’t news. But this,Â for me, is the kick in the teeth: that if we get to where that’s all we do, we’ll lose something primal about what it means to be human.
We who “have techno-joy” sometimes shy away from admitting that allowing yourself to “exchange 20 or 30 messages an hour (in the background)” is highly imperfect. But there it is.
From an efficacy point of view, you’re not giving your full attention to what you’re trying to accomplish – the conversation itself, or driving, or making lunch or whatever. This may not matter. If your PB&J is messy, and you don’t care, so what?
From a personal point of view, you’re not giving your full attention to the people you’re interacting with. Again, though: if the other person is aware of this and is fine with it, fine.Â For instance, when we IM at work to ask for information or share a link, we know we’re each focusing on other things, and nobody has expectations of deep conversation.
The thing Myerson is focusing on here is not just that when we choose to live in a “rapid background exchange” mode, we’re consciously abdicating full responsibility. Because sometimes, in some situations, that is okay.Â His point is more powerful – if we get to a point where we all do that all the time, that’s when we “lose touch”. And is that worth it? Could anything be worth losing “the deeper sense of communication which has played a fundamental role in human evolution”?