I have weird thoughts sometimes, ok, all times, but sometimes they bubble to the surface and take over most all of the other thoughts. I would say a vast majority of the time, these thoughts come from observation, and the observations come from my Autism, and they are all centered around the way the world is interacting with itself, be that with technology (something I’ve touched on before) or humanity, or even the way humanity interacts with concepts, be they abstract or concrete. Lately, I’ve been noticing something in the way we’ve all started communicating, and maybe this is a truth universal to every person of every generation, and if so that’s fine, but I’m noticing it more than ever before, which makes it new to me, so to hell with it. I’m gonna talk about it a bit.
Here’s the gist: Nobody listens anymore. Yep, I said it, and if I’m right, maybe even some didn’t listen this time around. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what’s to blame, but as I start paying closer and closer attention to the world around me, I just see a whole slew of people waiting for their turn to talk, waiting for their turn to tell their story, their side of the equation, their thoughts, opinions, their epiphanies, and often, their nonsense. Try this little bit of data on for size, if you’re like me and scrambling for an explanation:
Studies on Facebook show that the average attention span on social media for video content (which it should be noted is the most engaging and attention sucking), is a mind-blowing 2 seconds. On a mobile device, it’s only 1.7 seconds. LESS THAN TWO SECONDS before our brains collectively say, “Nah” and send a message to our thumbs to swipe up or down or left or right or whatever direction we need to swipe to start that 1.7 second clock over again. Two seconds to understand, to make a conscious choice as to whether or not we find it interesting. Two seconds, and that’s aimed at content literally designed, created, and algorithmically processed to hold our attention for as long as possible. How on earth are we supposed to do better with actual conversations with actual people about actual events, that are nothing if not humdrum compared to the TikTok-chosen-slapstick-humor-videos we’re bombarded with on a daily basis?
Bottom-line, we can, but I’ll be buggered if it isn’t hard. Still though, while the social media-ization of our world can be used to explain this shift towards non-listening, it doesn’t excuse it. It might shine a light onto the ‘why’ but to be fair, understanding the source of the problem doesn’t solve it. Furthermore, I’m not going to go down the full “I BLAME TECHNOLOGY” route on this, I’m not going to say that all this tech and all this connection is making us more disconnected, though it may be and probably is. Instead, I’m just going to say that we can, we should do better. I read amazing advice today, and it’s a fantastic starting point for us all:
Speak confidently as if you are right, but listen carefully as if you are wrong.
We’ve all got the “speak confidently” part down, most of us have been practicing that since we were but wee ones, but when it comes to the listen carefully bit, that’s where we tend to fade out and space out. If we’re so busy waiting for our turn to once again speak confidently, we’re going to miss a hell of a lot of other people’s confident speaking, we’re going to be missing out on thousands of opportunities for learning, for growth, as we journey through this life. When jotting down notes for this Signal Fire, one of the things I briefly jotted down was “utter shit,” and while I blame it mostly on being in a mood that day, probably because I’d just once again endured a conversation where I knew that the person I was speaking to wasn’t even present in the conversation at all, there’s a little kernel of truth to it.
When we don’t listen, when we don’t actually have a dialogue with those we’re speaking with, it all turns into that utter shit I noted above. I remember walking away from that conversation feeling not rejuvenated or energized or happy, but overwhelmed and bogged down, I felt frustrated that that much time and energy were wasted as nothing was actually learned, shared, or connected in that entire time. This is the price of our own self-interest I believe, and I don’t always think it was this way.
Maybe I’m just old, maybe I’m out-of-touch with the way communication has been evolving and what it has evolved to, and if so, I accept that, sadly. I just feel like we used to listen more, as my haiku today says, we actually used to dive into the depths and explore them with one another. Now, we only skim. I keep thinking back to that famous scene in “Stand By Me” where the boys sit around the fire and talk about what is arguably “utter shit” but to them it feels monumental. It feels revelatory, and they do nothing but talk, but listen, but interact without distraction and an attention span that cannot survive even the 1.7 seconds. Maybe we’ll never go back here, and we’re destined to hover right there on the surface of all things, hover our fingers above “Mute” on Zoom calls, our thumbs above the swiping. Who knows. But for me, I’ll keep exploring the depths. I’ll keep diving in.
Who knows, maybe I’ll see you down there.
They used to listen,
actually explore the depths,
Now they only skim.