9780684855745

Why We Don't Talk To Each Other Anymore The De-Voicing of Society

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  • ISBN13:

    9780684855745

  • ISBN10:

    0684855747

  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 1999-08-31
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
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Summary

We Have Arrived at the Information Age -- But Not in PersonE-mail, voice mail, fax machines, beepers. Technology is overwhelming us with information, driving out the sound of human voices. We have gained the advantage of nearly constant interaction with others but make only partial connections; in the process, we are losing something precious. In this witty and intelligent book, prominent psycholinguist John Locke takes a hard look at what we are really missing as intimate forms of self-expression vanish.Talking is the way we build and maintain relationships. Talking is the way that we learn to trust one another. But we now spend our days exchanging electronic factoids, leaving us little time to "just talk." Without intimate conversation, we can't really know others well enough to trust them or work with them harmoniously. We even lose track of our own selves -- our sense of humor, our own particular way of looking at things. We become lonely.Keenly perceptive and though-provoking,Why We Don't Talk to Each Other Anymoreis a provocative look at how we live with -- and without -- one another.

Table of Contents

Preface
Fore Word: And After Voice
The Articulate Heart
Duty And Pleasure
Social Work
Lip Service
De-Voicing
The Big Chill
The Autistic Society
Vocal Warming?
Epilogue
Notes
References
Index
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

Excerpts

Preface

In writing this book I relied on instincts acquired during several decades of empirical research in human communication science. These instincts steered me through the relevant scholarly literatures in biological and cultural anthropology, sociolinguistics, ethology, social psychology, sociology, and developmental and cognitive neuroscience, as well as business, economics, and government. These are the kinds of activities one expects of a university professor. But I also did some other things.

One thing I did was watch people informally and reflect on what I had learned from a lifetime of doing so. Ordinary life, if we treat it as such, is an Institute for the Study of Human Communication. The labs are street corners, dinner tables, cocktail parties, offices, public parks, university campuses, airplanes, and commuter trains -- in short, wherever two or more members of our loquacious species are found.

I also read newspapers and magazines from around the English-speaking world. You will find a number of end notes that document articles from these sources. At first glance these notes may seem out of place, intermixed as they are with scholarly references. But these more public items reveal the emergent experience of contemporary people captured journalistically in the middle of their first reactions to community fragmentation, automatic bank tellers, telecommuting, and social isolation; to answering machines, electronic mail, and loneliness. Use of this material allowed me to document ongoing social and cultural phenomena, many of which are too recent to be described elsewhere.

You are a talker, and you live in much the same world I do. As you read the chapters, I invite you to reflect on your own social-vocal exerience. Doing so, I believe, will confirm, enrich, and qualify in your own terms the observations and proposals that follow.

John L. Locke

Cambridge, England

Copyright © 1998 by John L. Locke

Foreword

And After Voice

Our species began to talk tens of thousands of years ago. But hundreds of millennia earlier, our evolutionary ancestors were already expressing themselves vocally while consorting with familiar members of their group.

If we were able to spend a day observing these near-humans, intercepting them just before they began to speak, we would see them dumped together in small congregations and hear the sounds of chattering, scolding, shouting, and laughing. These vocal communicants were exploiting an inherited capability for "close calls" -- the intimate resonances of their ancestors, the great apes -- for ways to signal personal intentions. And to good regulatory effect, for they secured for themselves and for us, their grateful progeny, new ways to promote and maintain friendships, cool off warring parties, scold and praise, gossip and argue, warn and appease, joke and show off. And when they did so, the voice assumed an exceptional commitment: primary publicist of each being's identity, feelings, character, and intentions.

We moderns are more like our evolutionary ancestors than we might care to admit. Like them, we use our voices to resolve disputes. Like them, we seek to convey amicable intentions to strangers, develop new friends, and gain admission to potentially helpful groups. But we humans would also like to be listened to. We need to be heard.

Most of us are pretty transparent, of course. Our looks and sounds express our feelings, even, as we are wont to say, "betray" them. But for the most part, humans are culturally disallowed from conveying personal and emotional information without talking. Anyone who generates a range of facial expressions and vocal variations while not uttering words is likely to be socially rejected, if not hospitalized or arrested. It is not enough to want to send these personal messages. We must have "legal" opportunities to expose our selves, and talking provides these now, just as social sound-making did so many thousands of years ago.

But a funny thing happened just a century or two into the present millennium. Our personal voices began to fade. The seeds were sown when tiny tribes of humans gave way to large and diverse cultures that had fewer pieces of shared information and a greater need to exchange impersonal facts. The process continued when we developed quicker ways to transmit messages and to conduct economic and personal business. Our appetite for information exploded when improved travel and mass communication multiplied the number of things we need to know about to compete and feel safe.

As we approach the new millennium, many of us modern crave men have acquired the things we need and are now burrowed into a socially detached style of unassisted living. We require no personal favors or coalitions to meet our personal responsibilities. Social talking is a way to kill time, and in complex; fast-paced societies, much of the spare time is already dead. Warmly personal chats with friends are thus being replaced by coolly efficient "info-speech" with strangers.

At one time the relationship was primary and the message almost incidental. Now, the exchange of information is too often the reason for speech, the personal relationship relegated to a position of secondary importance. Indeed, where our ancestors enjoyed the company of small groups, members of progressive societies are becoming monadic, foraging in the vicinity of other people but feeding mainly on themselves.

Our great-grandparents lived very differently. They could see and hear their communicants. Messages were wrapped in blankets of feeling. Voices moved, faces flashed. From an averted gaze, a grin, or a catch in the voice, our great-grandparents knew when other people were ill at ease or saying something not quite true. They knew from the tone of the voice, set of the jaw, and focus of the-eyes when their associates "meant business."

How times have changed. We great-grandchildren trade thoughts on a daily basis with people we do not know and will never meet. The social feedback mechanisms that were handed down by our evolutionary ancestors -- systems that were designed and carefully tuned by hundreds of millennia of face-to-face interaction -- are rarely used nowadays, and there is a potential for miscommunication and mistrust as never before in human history.

We feel it when we shop. People are more and more wary of products and services. When our grandparents were newly married, they knew the people they were dealing with. Social monitoring systems were in full operation. Talk mattered. Reputations were at stake. A spate of unsatisfactory negotiations could ruin a businessman. Now, slander suits -- once common in colonial America -- are down. A person's public image matters less than in the past. Not knowing the person in charge or even who that is, and lacking the personal assurances of any credible party, purchasers now require legal guarantees and contracts. The confirmatory handshake, once as trusted as it was facile, is long gone.

Intimate talking, the social call of humans, is on the endangered behaviors list. Even when we're with friends, many of us try to avoid chatting and gossiping, disdaining these forms of verbal conduct and the people who indulge in them. But there are lots of people these days with a new form of locked-in syndrome, people who long for an aimless chat with a dear old friend -- not a "conversation" over e-mail but a vocal chat, complete with eye movements and gestures and the possibility that either party could touch or embrace, console or congratulate the other.

As never before we are faced with discrepancies, growing by the year, between the ancestral environments that molded us and the modern ones that confront us on a daily basis -- a deepening conflict between biology and culture. Increasingly we go it alone, underexercising evolved faculties for social communication. Sending few messages about ourselves, we get back few reactions from others. We thus night-sail blindly into uncharted social waters, dissociated from the usual ways of knowing where we are going and what we might be becoming.

Many of us are beginning to develop the symptoms of an undiagnosed social condition, a kind of functional "de-voicing," brought on by an insufficient diet of intimate talking. Years ago we were warned that "automation," now a delightfully quaint word, would take away our personhood. Aided by the widespread distribution of computers, automation has now reached socially objectionable levels. Several years ago the First National Bank of Chicago began the latest trend in impersonal banking -- teller rationing. Customers are now charged $3 each time they attempt to speak to a human being at the counter. It's just the tip of a rapidly surfacing iceberg.

If you are autistic, welcome to the voiceless society. It was tailor-made for you. If you enjoy typing "I L-O-V-E Y-O-U" to a faceless stranger, a blissful future lies ahead. But if, like the rest of us, you need to share yourself with others, to enjoy the intimate company of close friends, and to be deeply understood, you may have already begun to miss the sound of social calls. You may be de-voicing.

Copyright © 1998 by John L. Locke


Excerpted from Why We Don't Talk to Each Other Anymore: The De-Voicing of Society by John L. Locke
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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