“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

That line is from the 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke, and is one of the top movie quotes of all time. And even though it’s almost 50 years old, I think it’s even more true and relevant today than it was back then.

It’s ironic that today we have more ways to communicate than ever before. In addition to the really old-fashioned ways like talking face to face in person, or voice to voice on the phone, we can email, text, or post online, for instance. The irony is that the more ways we have of communicating with each other, the more “failure to communicate” we seem to experience. It’s already been years since the memorable day when I saw a mom sharing a treat with her young son at a coffee shop, during which he sat there daydreaming while she spent most of the time on her cell phone. Since then, we’ve gotten to the point where many of us spend much of our day connected to our communication devices, checking and sending email, posts, and messages while life goes on around us. The people we’re with in real life rarely get our full and undivided attention because our thoughts and our thumbs are on our electronic gadgets.

Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend that’s even more alarming than this breakdown in personal communication. It’s that with so many different means of communicating – and with everyone having their own personal preference of which means to use – some messages are getting lost in the crowd, and some aren’t getting through at all.

Recently, I’ve had several meetings scheduled in which I sat and waited for others to show up, and they never did. When we finally caught up with each other, they were very apologetic. The reason for missing our meeting was that an agreement made in a Facebook message didn’t get transferred to the calendar. Or the information passed along by email didn’t sync with the dates on the phone.

There are people who have multiple phones and phone numbers, but don’t check them all regularly. And some people will respond instantly to a text message, but seem to ignore or disregard emails. It seems that the more ways we have to communicate with people, the more difficult it is to communicate with them.

I certainly don’t want to go back to a time when the only way to communicate with someone far away was by smoke signal. Or to the days when if you didn’t reach someone by phone you just had to try again later, since there was no voicemail, Caller ID, or any other means of leaving a message. So I don’t know how to resolve this problem. What I do know, however, is that failure can lead to success if we learn from our mistakes and keep working toward a better solution. So I’m hopeful that our failures to communicate will eventually lead to better ways for all of our messages to be sent.  And received.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on July 24, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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