Last month, I received an e-mail promoting a seminar on the use of blogs, social networking sites, gated communities, and microsites in consulting. Once again, I was moved to ask myself, “Doesn’t anyone talk anymore?”
One cannot dispute the value of the social media we have at our fingertips today. Certainly, sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter have opened new channels of communication for us. We can e-mail, text, twitter, tweet, cheep, and peep. But what has happened to the art of conversation – the ability to socially interact with live people? We have lost our professional courtesy. We don’t answer our telephones. We let calls go to voicemail, then decide who we will talk to and who we will ignore. Not too many years ago, one of the major reasons for joining an organization like the Council of Supply Management Professionals was to meet people you could call or meet with to discuss mutual problems. That doesn’t seem to be so much the case anymore.
Late last year, I made over 50 phone calls on behalf of a client. After the first five or six, I realized it was going to get ugly, so I started keeping score. The communication barrier started at the front door of most of the firms I called. Telephones were answered by automated systems that referred me to company directories, which did not work in several cases. When I finally worked my way through those, I reached voice mail in well over half the cases. Most of the people who knew me called me back. Most of those who didn’t, did not. I can go to Facebook and find out what someone had for dinner last night, but cannot reach them on the telephone.
What has brought about this change in attitude? Certainly, the pandemic has had an impact on behavior, as have downsizing and the emergence of new technologies. What is disturbing however, is that this has been happening for some time. Many of us simply don’t want to take the time to talk or choose to use other messaging options.
Some of you have had conversations like I had recently with someone I will call John. John, apparently having rediscovered his telephone, called and said, “It’s been a while. I just wanted to touch base.” Now, I haven’t heard from John in eight or nine years. Obviously, he is out of work and engaged in a crash program to establish a network. He might as well forget it. It won’t work. Building relationships is a long-term, never ending project and cannot be accomplished overnight. Nor can it be accomplished in my opinion, without personal contact. As a provider of logistics services for part of my career, I have often been frustrated by the failure of many supply chain managers to extend the simple courtesy of returning phone calls. This frustration turns to bemusement when the telephone rings and one of these same individuals is now out of work and suddenly my new best friend.
There is an old story about a group of boys who were trying to walk a railroad track, but could navigate only a few feet before losing their balance. Finally, two of the boys bet the others they could walk the rail without falling off. Challenged to make good on their boast, they each stepped on a rail, extended a hand to the other, and walked the entire length of the track without difficulty. Over the long run, we will accomplish more by helping each other.
Am I opposed to social media or new technology? Absolutely not. They are great tools, but let’s not lose sight of why God gave us the gifts of speech and hearing.