I’m Speechless

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Harvey D. Kart

Did you ever get the feeling that the world was a tuxedo and you were a pair of brown shoes? –George Gobel

These days I find it easy to relate to Lonesome George Gobel, even while feeling more like Samson after Delilah sheared his locks, thereby stripping him of his power.

If that sounds more like senseless babbling, you should have heard it rolling around in my brain.

You’ll have to excuse me. I haven’t been myself lately. You see, I’ve finally realized that the evolution-or maybe it’s the devolution-of society is stripping me of what little advantage I have.

Maybe it was the 75 conversations interrupted last month when a cell phone rang and the person across from me said, “I have to take this.” Perhaps it was the 50th person during that same time period who said, “Can’t talk now, just shoot me an email.” Or it could have been the one millionth secretary over the past 30 days who offered to put me into her boss’ voicemail.

Whatever it was that sent me screaming over the edge, the message was clear: When it comes to interpersonal communication between two human beings, we have allowed the old rules to just twitter away. And all the recent advances in social networking have done is to make us less sociable.

When I was growing up, I was always encouraged to articulate what I wanted. It was not acceptable for any of us to simply point and grunt. (Okay, we waived that rule for my Uncle Julius, but he was a special case.) I started my professional life as a school teacher and it was there that I learned to appreciate the need to communicate with each student and the power of my voice.

I understood almost instinctively the need for structure, to have a beginning, middle and end to my thoughts and to articulate them, whether verbally or in written form, with passion and conviction.

When I left the classroom to become an entrepreneur and a salesman, the ability to speak to other human being served me well. It helped me build newspapers in Western Pennsylvania, Chicago, Atlanta and South Florida. It helped me to convince literally hundreds of individuals to buy into the idea that a medical business publication could grow and flourish. You are holding the fruits of those efforts in your hands right now.

In short, I had discovered the secret to my success: Shake hands, make eye contact and speak directly to another person with no barriers between us. This secret gave me confidence and power. Hence, I felt like a modern-day Samson-even if I did lack the appropriate abs, pecs and flowing locks.

But now I sit practically powerless, stripped not of hair, but of the ability to get in front of anyone and have a good, old-fashioned conversation. See, it seems as a society we now prefer to do our communicating through electronic barriers and share our feelings through Emoticons. In the interest of speed and efficiency, we’ve sacrificed a little of our humanity.

I’m not saying it’s all bad, nor, despite my reference to a legendary Old Testament strongman am I admitting to being stuck in the past. I can twitter, text and email with the best of them. I learned not because I wanted to, but because I had to.

But I have to admit, I miss the human interaction lost when the person on the other end chooses not to return a call or opts to delete my email. Even those who choose to respond seldom do so in person, face-to-face, or even live over the phone. Today meetings are scheduled electronically and events-even those as important and uniquely human as a wedding-are planned and scheduled through MySpace and Facebook.

I’m not adjusting to this without a fair amount of stress. I find myself sitting on the edge of my bed at night and, before I can go to sleep, I babble incoherently for about 30 minutes, purging myself of all the words I wanted to say to someone else during the day.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But not by much..

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