This was the question posed by an opinion piece in the New York Times on Sunday April 22. I ran across it thanks to a ‘freshly pressed’ blog here on WordPress. Read that article, then read the comments below, and you’ll wonder what sort of hell we have stepped into. But I have to tell you that being married to a deaf man and spending most of my social time around the deaf, I have gained a completely different perspective on how technology has improved–yes IMPROVED–our ability to communicate.
It’s ironic that just yesterday I wrote a blog for my withclosedcaptions.wordpress.com blog about how to communicate with a deaf person. This was in response to my hearing friends who took just a little umbrage at my post on the same blog that said, essentially: Please stop talking to my husband, I just told you he was deaf. One of the recommendations I made for communicating with a deaf person when you don’t know ASL was cell phones and digital devices. You are much more likely to have them than a paper and pencil.
I hear people lamenting how technology has torn us all apart from one another. How everyone is so focused on their smartphone, iPad, xbox or other device that it has become an actual ‘virtue’ to be a technophobe. I think people are forgetting what it was like before technology. 100 years ago you owned 5 acres of land in the American West (or Canada, for that matter), you spent most of your week on those 5 acres. You talked to almost no one except your family, the hands on your land you could afford to hire, if you could hire anyone, and your mule/horse/ox/dog. Your only real chance at social interaction with ‘friends’ was barn-raising and church (neither one is very popular anymore).
It was a hard, lonely life. But lets say you live in one of the big cities, in a tenement. Then you have the opposite problem. You have heard nothing but machine/people noise all day, are squeezed into a small apartment with your entire family, and all you want is a moment of peace and quiet to yourself. In either case, unless you were rich (and there were far fewer ‘rich’ people before technology), you either wanted to be alone or were so isolated you yearned for someone new to move in just so you could build them a barn.
Phones, when they came into existence, were a luxury, and they were more a tool for business than of the common classes. But when they became commonplace, were people lamenting that we spent more time on the phone talking to one another than we did talking face to face? Or did they appreciate the fact that you didn’t have to get in your car and travel across town to talk to someone about the weather?
Lets move to today.
Because I am married to a deaf man and spend so much time around the deaf, I find posts lamenting the fact that we have lost the art of conversation, that we don’t get together anymore, really strange. The deaf have a lot of gatherings. They have coffee gatherings, birthday gatherings, popcorn gatherings. My parties consist of mostly deaf with a handful of hearing folk. I wonder at these sorts of articles and posts that lament that conversation is dying – even moreso because the deaf use the internet and texting as a primary means of communicating with other deaf and the hearing.
Why is it that we think conversation is dying, when the internet/cell phones, the ability to connect and network have brought us closer to people who are further away? I talk to my friend from Arizona, one I only reconnected with 5 years ago after a 30 year absence from her life, every day via email. If she doesn’t email, I send her a text message and ask if anything is wrong.
I met my husband online. I would have never met him in real life. I never knew he was deaf until a few weeks before he was scheduled to fly out from Florida to meet me for the first time (we got married 8 days later, btw). Technology removes barriers we could not. It makes us more equal. Today we have more contacts, more resources, more FRIENDS, and the ability to contact them at will. And we complain about it?!?
I don’t think we have lost the art of conversation at all. I think it is evolving, and like all language, we adapt to the new environment. Technology has done wonderful things for the deaf and their ability to converse, and they embrace it wholeheartedly. Maybe it’s time us hearing folk should do the same thing.