Words without meaning & the reality of networked communication

The saying used to say, water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. It might as well be words words everywhere and not a single word to say.

I wonder if emotion in communication — our ability to express is vanishing from our lives as we are overrun by methods and mediums of communication. Email. Facebook. Whatsapp. Twitter. Sms. Phone. Someone has come up with Yo — what seems to be an atomic unit of optimal communique- stripped of meaning and extraneous letters, and an apt metaphor of our modern sped up lives.

It seems like I am constantly typing something. A small note to someone. A memo to someone else. A blog post. A Facebook post. A conversation on Whatsapp. A text message. Tweet. Tap tap tap. I doesn’t matter whether it is my phone, my computer or my iPad. Tap tap tap!

The more I type, the more words lose meaning. Words are communication, but am I really communicating? Yes, I am conveying what I need to say but am I really sharing what I am saying? The more I say, the less I say. I feel less. Words are just words, without any meaning.

When we wish someone happy birthday on Facebook are we doing it because we actually remembered the day and we’re excited to wish them happy birthday or because of some Facebook imposed moral obligation. I think we have all done it. I do it at least once a day. Sometimes even twice or thrice a day.

And when I do it, I pat myself on the back, for having spread the social lubricant of nicety. It is a gutless and meaningless action that should serve as a reminder that most of us are too busy to remember anything and given our state of constant communication we are slowly stripping out meaning from words and using them to just get-the-job-done.


No wonder we need emoticons or apps that buzz us out of stupor when we press heart symbol on screen. Have you heard about Derp, an app that helps you push sounds like — sigh, applause, fart and goat — to your friends phone in order to give some emotion to the networked communication.

Apple has put a special “reach out and touch” feature in its forth coming watch, perhaps a subliminal suggestion that in a world where time itself is a fungible concept we might not have enough to reach out and touch in real time, where the tingle from an electronic bracket would replace the intimacy of holding someone’s hand.

Whenever I bemoan something, I usually go into hiding and start wondering and thinking about the reason why I am actually in a state of emotional distress. Why am I not able to evaluate the change and shift with logic. So the more I thought about this — the more I realized that medium and modality of communication has replaced some of the emotional cadence that used to be the hallmark of pre-networked communication.

For instance, today is the birthday of one of my dear friends and I sent her an email and followed up with a text message exchange. Another friend in India, got a Skype call. To others I sit down and write a note, expressing my gratitude for their presence in my life, or even buying me a cup of coffee.

Earlier this week was my nephew’s birthday, and I woke the kid up, while I was in Portugal to wish him. We didn’t exchange more than ten words, but through his grogginess I know he knows that I know how important he is to me. Facebook messages where you utter “happy birthday, xyz” is a pretty strong signal of one’s (lack of real) social bond. If someone is special we tend to write them a personalized note.

The length of the message or communication interaction and the method has become a barometer of our social relationships. It is like we are signaling our love through the amount of time we accord to our communications— and why not, we are increasingly attention deficit animals! Time is the ultimate gift — don’t you think?

A letter from Om

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