On Communication Overload

Photo by Joan M. Mas
Photo by Joan M. Mas

Some days it seems as though my mobile phone has become an extension of my body: another limb or brain. Or a succubus. Why is it that we long to reach certain goal posts as children, ones which as adults are no longer enticing? Children as young as ten clamour for their own phones. What a luxury as an adult to be off the grid, for a while at least. Most of us are unable to free ourselves from modern communication due to work commitments or the need to be accessible to our children or parents.

I’ve had the sense for a while that I might need a communication detox: a feeling of regret when I post on my personal Facebook page, annoyance when my Whats App inbox is full a half hour after responding to messages, losing track of individual messages because I communicate on so many different mediums.

Forgive me, I know communication overload is a very first world problem. It’s also my bread and butter. I’ve always worked in jobs where words – and understanding people – are my talent. Freedom of speech is indispensable to democracy. Diverse communication forums open up a world of possibility. In some regions of the globe, such forums are blocked or monitored, and the state applies a vice-like pressure to those who pursue freedom of expression. In other countries, good internet access, mobile phones and computers would mean a surge of opportunities.

Here in the West, we are on a hamster wheel of consumption that comes at the expense of creation and real connection.

Oh, for the quiet of the woods, and the rustle of the trees. For days on the beach when the sun’s glare renders phones useless and you bury your feet deep in the sand, and the salt water from the sea heals your stresses. For days when we are so present in our actions, that the incessant ting ting or vibration of our pocket computers fail to register.

Photo by Jonny Hughes
Photo by Jonny Hughes

Often, communication overload, in the form of social media, news and messaging apps, compromises our peace of mind. Last week I read that the clean search page on Google we all know so well, will soon be filled with apps and news. For a moment I wanted to sink to my knees and wail, but I’d been up with the baby most of the night, so there’s that.

The communication workload for our family of five falls to me, and it can be a heavy mental load arranging diaries, keeping up with the circle of friends and family that expands as our family grows. How churlish I must seem not to be grateful for the love that surrounds us when so many people are lonely.

Even so, the immediacy of technology, however convenient, is not always a blessing. We are forgetting the ability to savour special moments. We are too quick to view experiences through a camera lens than with our own eyes, to send a message instead of holding a cuppa across the table from friends. We become pressured into always being available, which means we are never present, only thinking of the next thing on our to do list.

Enough. Stop.

The ceaseless barrage of chatter will only nourish us for a nanosecond, and even then, the emptiness remains. Research shows that positive receptors are activated in our brains with every like or retweet. But like any addiction, the low comes quickly. We are learning to rely more on external validation rather than internal contentment.

More. More. More. But we feel less. We remember less. We are less than we could be.

Photo by Sharon Hinchliffe
Photo by Sharon Hinchliffe

I straddle a generation that is comfortable with mobiles, but grew up without them. I worry for children who know no other way of being, who cannot conceive of an off-switch because not only social interaction but our whole way of life is so heavily reliant on tech nowadays. I read recently that many Silicon Valley executives limit screen time for the kids.

Climbing trees, and jumping in puddles. Making daisy chains and lemonade. Smeared chocolate cake on little faces and licking icing from the pot. Roasting marsh-mellows, and making up silly songs, and secret languages. Playing cat’s cradle, kicking a ball and tripping over skipping ropes. That’s the stuff childhood is made of.

As for me, I’m a news hound, but I’ve realised I’m much happier if I limit how much news I read. I’ve also returned to paperbacks for the books I want to fall in love with. My memory recall is better with paper, although I still use my Kindle for most non-fiction. I love Nokia’s idea of bringing back a version of their basic phone. I’ve started to use apps like Focus and Freedom to wean myself off social media. I read somewhere that turning my phone to grey scale under the accessibility options might be calming, a way to circumvent the colour choices that developers use to snare our attention. Maybe a phone in grey scale is a good thing. It might reinforce how colourful real life is, if only we remember to look.

It’d be nice if somehow after this technological boom, we find equilibrium. I’d love to know how you juggle it all. Tell me your secrets, and I won’t tell a soul. I’ll be offline, n

2 thoughts on “On Communication Overload

  1. Hello liebling.

    This is a subject you return to and I find it at turns worrying and a relief that someone else feels/thinks the same way. You mention being the one in your family to carry the comms overload, the organization…. the emotional labour. Without disrespect to you or anyone I am curious now if a report exists somewhere taking apart the response times of women in comparison to men when it comes to messages (SMS, social media, email etc) especially where work colleagues, friends and family are concerned. I’m willing to hazard a guess that it’s women who are more responsive when it comes to replying, for the innate need for approval in a society that demands it of us and/or the expectation to care. Emotional labour always did fall to our gender. The immediacy of comms nowadays has likely only quickened the process.

    I get aggravated very quickly by too many messages. Some days are better than others. I spent this weekend logged out of Facebook and with all notifications turned off, despite knowing a family emergency could occur in the meantime – but what could I do to prevent it? I absolutely *need* that time alone, insofar as “alone” is possible these days. Talking only when it’s necessary, and otherwise listening to music, drifting along through the green-gold haze of summer and yes, I did stop to smell the roses last night, rain-soaked as they were. Get me.

    These hours, days of solitude are important for *everyone*, I think, whether you buy into the whole intro/extrovert thing or not. We fail to remember that social media, smartphones, instant comms are very, very new. We haven’t really adapted or found ways to mitigate the effects. They are only part of one generation yet and we both recall a time when they didn’t exist (or at least not in mass capacity.) Ours was the childhood of climbing and exploring, bike rides (\and yes, NES/SNES.) BUT – this, I think, was unique to our generation and a few before. I wonder how much time for play there was for the kids who came before, or how appropriate such activities were found to be.

    The difference here is the change of pace. Not in a matter of 2-3 generations, spread over a century or so. A decade, 15 years? From the change of the millennium?
    I don’t think we’ve yet built up the reserves, the coping mechanisms to deal with all this change. Hence the needs for random detoxes; it’s like the brain/soul/body heaving a loud sigh with “Enough, already.”

    Good luck with yours. I feel more like myself for taking a step back.

    1. You nail it here in every way, Rach, and as ever am glad that we’re of like mind. You’re right, I do return to this topic time and again. Maybe because as so often women end up as gatekeepers in families. The comms fall to us. J was brought up by a single mum and is a feminist. We share childcare and the household work, but I notice he is more free from guilt than I am, less likely to respond immediately to those outside our little circle. Like my dad. I think it’s a gender and a cultural thing in many ways. I need words like I need quiet, as you do. Still, I’ve always struggled with needing to be the good girl and pushing back against it. And in many ways I push back against influences I don’t want on the kids, but I’ve noticed those are extra little battles that I have less energy for nowadays. Smelling rain-soaked roses. Yes! And we’ll need coping mechanisms. I wonder if all this is not part of what is driving the increase in mental health issues. Love you, n

Leave a Reply