Scene: The GSU, around noon on a Monday. A guy wearing a hockey jersey eats lunch while a girl wearing glasses does the same at the adjacent table. The guy is on his phone, and realizes that he never sent that text he typed up about an hour ago. The girl speaks up.
“Are you going to the Beanpot?” she asks.
“Huh?” the guy takes his headphones out.
“Are you going to the Beanpot today?” She has a slight Asian accent. He looks at her as though she has just stepped out of an alien mother ship.
“I think you have me confused with someone else,” he says.
“No I don’t,” she replies. This does nothing to alleviate his confusion.
“I’m not going to ping pong,” he answers.
Eventually, the confusion between our characters would be cleared up, albeit not without a couple more missteps. But this example is hardly a sole breakdown in an otherwise flawless web. We are screwing up our interactions with one another on a daily basis.
This time it was a problem with hearing one another. Tomorrow, it’s a text message you can’t quite interpret, either because auto-correct screwed up, or because tone is just so hard to convey. As more of our interactions take place online and on phones, this will either become a huge problem or one we’ll learn to fix. I wonder if people in power have these awkward, mumbling interactions, the way average folks do, but I suppose our diplomats and politicians are there specifically for their ability to communicate clearly.
How many of our problems can be traced back to failures in communication? When men and women (boys and girls, too) grow frustrated with one another, how often is it the result of simply not being clear with each other? How many people have you said “I’m fine” to when you really weren’t? More severely, is it a coincidence that most of our wars have been against people who spoke different languages?
Would we be happier if we just said what we meant all the time instead of dancing around social norms and our fear of vulnerability? We use our communication skills to hint at what we want without ever coming out and saying so, as though that’s some sort of taboo. “I would like to date you” becomes “You wanna hang out?” Likewise, “No” turns into “I’m busy.”
Maybe handling our social interactions more like transactions, with each party announcing their intentions, would result in everybody getting what they want. Would our honesty and straightforwardness be appreciated, or would we just stir up new discomforts? I don’t know, but I’d like to find out.