While traveling through airports last week, I picked up a copy of USA Today. The front page story was: “2010: THE YEAR WE STOPPED TALKING.” Americans are more connected than ever, but not in person. Statistics from CTIA, The Wireless Association, Nielsen Co. and I.T. Union report that 93% of Americans have a cell phone, and that 1.8 trillion text messages were sent from June 2009-2010.
I wish I had created the USA Today title, because I had already planned to address it in my family and with myself. Not only am I seeing my husband and children communicate via text messages as a routine, I have used it as a way to communicate with others while living in our over-committed world. The result of this form of communication is evident in the training I am providing to young business people. When I interview the business leaders in our city to find what etiquette skills are most important to them, they routinely say for the younger generation to stop texting and checking Facebook during meetings. This group of our society doesn’t see a problem with this practice at all. I would say in my business, it isn’t just the young people behaving this way in a meeting.
For us Baby Boomers, close your eyes and picture our dinner time in the 1950s and 1960s. Mom cooked dinner, Dad came home from work, we set the table and over dinner we talked about what is going on in the world, politics, table manners, family history and general stories that formed our values and helped create our goals. Then, moms went to work and the wheels came off, according to Gail Collins in her book, When Everything Changed. We began eating fast food for dinner, unwrapping our meals in the car on the way to soccer. Suddenly no one ate at the table and no one talked over dinner. Once home, homework took priority, and then off to sleep.
This is the first time in history that four generations are functioning in the workplace at the same time. So how do we older people inspire the younger people to learn some of our skills and at the same time learn from them by embracing their technological skills? First, we need to start communicating, and not by email or text. As business leaders, let’s do what we claim is important: invest time and develop these critical relationships by meeting face-to-face and having the 1950′s dinner around the table. This technological world can be good for us all, but also create a socially challenged workforce that is going to soon take our place.
I can’t deny the benefits of ever-evolving technology, but there are cons, too. Multitasking is the enemy of good manners. Hiding behind text messages and email to express feelings and confrontations is destructive to relationships. We are not sharing our values, stories, history in families because we are texting and on Facebook at home, connecting with others while we ignore the people inside our same four walls. It reminds me of a phrase I heard last year that reminds me of what is most important: “Blackberries don’t grow up, but kids do.”
Why trade hearing a loved one’s voice or that of a good friend for a lengthy text messaging exchange? Last year, I lost at least fifteen longtime friends, that today, I would give anything to be able to call and talk with. My goal is to stop texting, start talking and I urge you to do the same. Let’s all make 2011 “The Year That We Start Talking Again.” It will help us develop and maintain good relationships, help our children become empowered and confident, and our businesses provide quality service and experienced salespeople.