Communication in an Age of Distraction

The late German psychoanalyst and scholar Erich Fromm, best known for his books The Art of Loving and Escape From Freedom, aka The Fear of Freedom, was a great extoller generally speaking of lives lived for the sake of ‘being’ as opposed to ‘having’ or ‘doing’. The emphasis arises often in his work and perhaps finds no more direct expression than in another of his seminal titles, To Have or To Be.
Fromm died in 1980 and therefore missed seeing most of the gadgetry that has since become common fare in a rapidly advancing electronic age. At a guess he would find much to praise in the speeded up world and a lot to be said for the fact that so many have ready access to so much at their fingertips. The craze for having Fromm was most concerned about at the time he wrote pertained to goods. Though the particular ‘must haves’ in this day and age may emphasise something else, I would venture to suggest he would be every bit as concerned about detrimental ‘or’ consequences as when he wrote so lucidly on the subject.
In the mid-1980s I took out membership in a pen pal club, eventually writing a piece for the group’s periodical in which I referred to the joy inherent in the process of sitting down, writing and exchanging letters with friends in far-flung countries. Of course this was at a time when handwritten letters were still in vogue. I never begrudged the wait for a letter from a pen pal. On the contrary, I rested content in the knowledge that when it finally ended a loving, well thought-out card or letter would come to hand, rewarding my patience.
Fast forward roughly a decade to the advent of electronic mail. On the whole I saw this as a positive development. E-mail would take away the aesthetic pleasure of stamps, envelopes and paper and a certain personal touch. But, to name just one anticipated advantage to this means of instant communication, surely long waiting times would become a relic of the past.
Alas, procrastinating correspondents did not turn overnight into quick on the draw communicators. Even worse, friends who could be counted on for something earnest when they took the time to pen their missives by hand were often much poorer at opening up in their electronic correspondence – when they bothered to make the attempt that is.
I wondered why this was so. Did it have something to do with the world wide web? Was the temptation offered by WWW to check on this, that and the other so great as to render the idea of spending half an hour or an hour on one given task inconceivable? The newfangled electronic items were initially expected to save people vast quantities of time. Of course the irony was that many began finding themselves more short of time than ever as they strived to maintain their sanity amid potentially endless distractions.
It is important to move with the times, to remain ‘up to speed’ and connected. But in an age where e’s and i’s now preface many words that once existed quite well without, where ‘connections’ can be made and lost in the blink of an eye, one might be well advised to settle on compromise.
The beautiful thing that is heartfelt communication is still possible in this world. Making sure of the fact may simply be a matter of not altogether dispensing with the pen and the papyrus, archaic as the idea may at first sound to the most hard-nosed fans of electronica. As road toll campaigns have taken great pains to inform us for years, speed kills. Writing longhand, as I can personally attest, inevitably invites a slowing down. It promotes thought and care with regard to every single word that is set forth. Writing with a pen you are more focussed, more sincere and, dare I say it, more in the mind of your intended recipient. This is hard yards, but it is quality time in our age of distractions or, as Fromm termed it, being.
By all means then enjoy the best of both worlds, type up and revise accordingly at the keyboard, switch network WWW back on, open up your email account and click ‘send’. Leaving aside the personal saving on postage and envelopes, the friend or loved one at the other end is bound to be moved and grateful.


About owenlindsayboyd

I am a follower of the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda - author of Autobiography of a Yogi. I begin and end each day with meditation, a spiritual base from which all else proceeds. I am a personal carer, writer and traveller, among other things, originally from just outside Melbourne in Australia. I lived in my hometown until 1984, obtaining a degree in Arts, with majors in sociology and communication studies, in 1980. I have spent a considerable amount of time since the late eighties living and working in a wide range of communities in many different parts of the world. I have lived and worked with homeless people, disabled people and refugees. As a writer, I am principally a novelist though I also write shorter pieces, both fiction and non-fiction and have published and self-published poetry, articles, short stories, memoirs and novels. In addition, I write screenplays and have made a number of low-budget film productions. In recent years I self-published a trilogy of novels dealing, principally, with the themes of healing and reconciliation. 'The Unintentional Healing of Soul' (Changeling / Trafford 2003) was followed by 'Proper Respect for a Wound' (Changeling / Trafford 2005) and 'Thanks Be to the World' (Changeling / Trafford 2009). 'Proper Respect for a Wound' was also published in e-book format by Jaffa Books, Brisbane, Australia in 2013. I self-published a two-book travel memoir, 'The Second of Three' and 'From a Caregiver's Point of View' early in 2014. It is distributed on smashwords. Later in 2014 I plan to publish a book of stories.
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