The Voice of Experience: Communication declining in 21st century

Unfortunately, in our real 21st century world, technology could lead to the deterioration of the face-to-face conversation...

“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” are the memorable last words of escaped convict Cool Hand Luke in the classic movie of the same name starring Paul Newman. Luke, a war hero, had won the respect of his fellow inmates with his courageous rebellion against the brutal injustice of the prison regime. His tragedy was his lack of opportunity to develop his own fine qualities and express his frustration with authority figures in a socially acceptable way. Perhaps this unhappy situation could have been improved by his having more opportunities to nurture a more rounded personality with meaningful, interactive conversations.

Unfortunately, in our real 21st century world, technology could lead to the deterioration of the face-to-face conversation. How many families choose to watch TV rather than sit at the dinner table and converse? How many times have we been annoyed when a person gives preference to his cellphone or iPod rather than present company? Will the popularity of tweeting, Facebooking and texting cause a disconnect from reality? Is the convenience of online shopping and banking preferable to the advantages of a local outlet? So often this sort of contact is one-way, with the result that the use of expressions of common courtesies of gratitude, appreciation, regret and pleasure may be dying.

Obviously, conversation skills are an important factor in forming and maintaining relationships. For example, getting to know one’s prospective life partner by talking in more depth might lead to a marriage more likely to be successful and help reduce horrendous divorce numbers. Later, as parents, this well-adjusted pair might be more likely to balance compliments with firm directions and pass on their skills to their offspring.

Is the decline of conversational skills inevitable? Perhaps the older generation could be a model for the youngsters, as in their earlier years there were fewer alternatives to communication. Yes, that’s you, seniors, and especially grandparents!

Perhaps schools could help. Practicing conversational skills for 10 minutes a day could be useful and fun. According to a Sept. 10 Macleans article, “New research shows that it’s not academics that guarantees success in school, it’s social skills and resilience.”

It’s well-known that youngsters’ favourite time at school is recess or lunchtime. What might be needed is a refinement of their forms of social interaction with some fun use of some conversation role playing, with firm guidelines as to what they talk about and how they converse. One guideline might be, “Take a genuine interest in your partner by balancing questions with statements and spending as much time listening as speaking.”

Turning to the post secondary scene, the same Macleans edition features what they call “Crisis on Campus”, stating, “A shocking number of students feel depressed even suicidal.”

Perhaps closer social contacts may relieve this unhappiness, preparing them not only for their own success and contentment but as the ones soon to govern our country. With the right support and adjustments, they could share these vital responsibilities successfully with the happier Cool Hand Lukes of this world.

Incidentally, Prince Charles Secondary School is focusing on two themes for the 2012-13 academic year. First is the aforementioned resilience — the ability to solve problems and learn from trial and error with flexibility and imagination.

The second focus is citizenship. One aspect of citizenship is volunteering. Refer to the same Macleans editorial entitled, “Even if Mandatory, Volunteering is Good for Kids.”

If you see an opportunity for one or more high school students to volunteer in an appropriate task not interfering with paid employment opportunities, please contact the school at 250-428-2274 or The school will appreciate your suggestions and the community will certainly benefit.

Phil Thomas is a longtime Creston resident and volunteer.


Creston Valley Advance