by Colette Davidson • 9/16/08 • Ever been stuck on a plane next a Chatty Cathy who couldn’t be hushed, not even after blatantly stuffing your iPod headphones in your ears? Or how about that talker on the end of the phone line—otherwise known as your best friend—who won’t stop going on about her new boyfriend? Now there are a wealth of Web sites and products available not to help deal with uncomfortable conversations, but to avoid them altogether.
Kolet ink is the blog of Colette Davidson, a freelance writer for the TC Daily Planet and a former assistant editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News. She recently moved to Perigueux, France to work as an assistant editor for the monthly English newspaper French News.
A quick Google search brings up pages of new techniques for avoiding that certain someone in your life who brings your listening skills to the breaking point. First, there’s Slydial, a phone service that allows you to leave quick messages for people instead of having to deal with long, drawn-out conversations, wasting your precious cell phone minutes and time. Just dial the number and be connected to your party’s voicemail directly. Chatty Cathy number one—check.
Then, there’s sorrygottago.com, a Web site that offers a multitude of sounds that can be set off on your caller when they get a little gabby. How about incessant coughing and sneezing to get them off the line? Or perhaps you prefer the police siren? Or maybe it’s the mooing cow you like.
The list goes on. Wikihow has numerous articles on “how to avoid conversation” on public transportation or about religion. There’s even one on how to avoid talking to people altogether.
Of course, there are also articles on how to make conversation, but what’s undeniably worrying is the sheer number of businesses that have been created to help people get out of interpersonal communication. In a world where one U.S. presidential candidate is being chastised for listing “dialogue” as one of his, erm, talking points with scary Iran, goes a long way to demonstrate the state of our country’s communication crisis.
Just think of the last time you avoided talking to someone. Most of us do it every day at work when we choose to write a quick e-mail instead of picking up the phone to get the same message across. And God forbid we actually pick ourselves up off our lazy butts and go to the person directly! In the office where I work, I have a colleague who is diametrically opposed to using e-mail because she finds doing business so much better in person. For most people today, this thought is downright shocking, not to mention fear-inducing. Many (like myself) would brush this behavior off as being “out of touch,” “difficult,” or even “ridiculous.”
In the office where I work, I have a colleague who is diametrically opposed to using e-mail because she finds doing business so much better in person. For most people today, this thought is downright shocking, not to mention fear-inducing. Many (like myself) would brush this behavior off as being “out of touch,” “difficult,” or even “ridiculous.”
Long gone are the days of sitting around the table with friends and a few drinks on a Saturday afternoon. Now, if drinks are to be had, it’s in a crowded bar where we spend the night scoping out prospective loves instead of talking to one other. Alcohol must be involved. Spending an afternoon with a few Coca-Colas on someone’s porch is only really done in small town America, and even there, attention spans are waning for the under-50 age group. Here in Europe, the tradition of “having drinks” is still considered socially acceptable, but already, more and more people are spending time on their cell phones instead of face-to-face—a sure sign of a communication demise.
Perhaps our fear of chitchat stems from our need for independence. We want to be solely responsible for not only what we do and where we live, but also with whom we talk. Take a simple living arrangement in Asia as an example. Seniors live with their families instead of in retirement homes. Twenty-somethings hole up in their childhood bedrooms until they get married. The concept of living alone in Asia is seen as lonely, unnecessary and wasteful. By the mere proximity of people, communication is bound to improve. In the West, however, we are continually moving in opposite directions from one another—buying that studio apartment on the 10th floor, avoiding our neighbors in the hallway and taking the stairs instead of the elevator—all in an effort to avoid awkward conversation.
Paying companies to help us shun one another face-to-face is, effectively, evidence of a communication crisis already underway. Testaments are all around us. The Internet is swallowing up news readers, many of whom haven’t bought actual newspapers in months. Video games have replaced real ones (remember freeze tag?) and couch-potato-ing in front of the TV is the standard nightly routine of most Americans. Hanging out with friends is arranged by phone or by e-mail, and knocking on someone’s door just to say hello could make you liable for a restraining order.
These latest communication avoidance gadgets, like Slydial and sorrygottago.com, are not necessarily treating a new problem, but are simply giving the people what they want and think they need. Instead of dealing with their interpersonal woes and inefficient time management skills, the easy way out is the one now being chosen.
Anyway, I could continue this conversation further, but I’m about to have a major coughing fit. And wait—isn’t that Mabel the cow mooing in the backyard? And oh, there are those darn police officers showing up on my doorstep again.
Sorry, I really gotta go…