I just realised that my last blog post is already 6 weeks old. In between were some busy days and a lovely summer break. We spent a perfect beach holiday in the South of France – wonderful weather, wonderful people, wonderful landscape, wonderful food. I hope everyone else also had a nice summer and some relaxing days off.
Now I am back at work – and back to travelling today. I just changed trains at Cologne when I walked by the automatic ticket machines with huge queues in front of them. And I saw all the fellow-travellers with their online and electronic tickets. That triggered a thought.
Everyone in business – and actually anywhere else – knows how important communication is. On the other hand, we increasingly use electronic or automatic means for making our arrangements. We book online or at ticket machines, we do online banking at get our money out of cash machines, we make all kinds of arrangements in “do-it-youself” mode over the web – and, just to be clear, I like this because it saves you time and is efficient. However, it means that we don't interact with people at a counter anymore. We don't go there, tell the officer in charge what we want, get his advice, ask back, close the transaction by looking someone in the eye, giving a smile, getting a smile, saying “thank you” and “good bye”. In other words, we have got rid of a good deal of normal, daily conversation. And is a kind of business-style communication which gets lost, the communication you do for doing whatever kind of transaction.
In a way automisation and the web are only the current tip of a process that started decades ago. With big superstores where you walk yourselves along the shelves and load your trolley rather than going from one small shop to the next and telling the person behind the counter what you would like to have. In addition, we increasingly put children aside, e.g. by dropping them in a children's play corner before entering a shopping centre. They can enjoy themselves and we don't get bothered with bored kids who want to get out of the shop while we still want to try another pair of trousers or check for another item on our list. By the way, I recently read somewhere that big stores start to install also men's corners where women can drop their male companions before going shopping – LOL...
Now, as already mentioned above, I don't want to say that the good old days were fantastic and that technology, automisation and the web are bad and should not be used. Far from it. I love the web, I love doing transactions online, I appreciate superstores with their huge choice of goods, etc. But I wonder whether there is some consequence regarding daily practice of communication that we need to be more aware of and react to. And I could imagine that it mainly effects business communication. That it effects the way, the naturalness in communicating with customers and clients and also with colleagues. After all, we are spending huge amounts of money and effort on training of softskills etc. I wonder whether this has ever been addressed in some socio-linguistic study or experiment. Would be very interesting.
Anyway, I believe that we should pay some attention on this issue (if you agree that it is an issue) especially regarding our children. Let's not further put them aside of daily communication, let's not “store” them at neighbours or friends when you go shopping or deal with a craftsman or whatever. But expose them to such daily business. Encourage them to take some walks, go the baker's or the newspaper shop or whatever themselves. Make them order things and thus get prepared for clarifying questions from a clerk, for responding back, etc. And teach them to say hello to neighbours, to say “please” and “thank you”, etc.
I love the moment when the people in the queue before a ticket machine start talking to each other, for instance, because someone doesn't know how the machine works or doesn't get what he/she wants. And suddenly communication is back and people start dealing with each other – with a smile, looking someone in the eye, saying please and thank you ;-)