I came to visit my daughter at School at the university of California. She snuck me into the back of a bleacher style auditorium where the professor was explaining the history of languages, where they originated and how they formed.
I looked around the room, it was 8AM. Kids represented every hue of the rainbow, diversity in its perfect form. A few showed up still in pajamas, most seeming more asleep than awake. I was so happy, in part I felt like this diversity was some of what I was paying for, immersing my kid in the fabric of humanity in all it’s beautiful forms.
We sat in the very back row, looking down over the whole scene.
I scanned the open laptops of the glowing auditorium and every single screen I could see was on Facebook.
I found the irony of this in a linguistics class fascinating and humiliating.
Communication has changed so dramatically.
As the tweed ensconced professor talked about native Americans and some of the first symbols they used as their first written language and attempts to expand communication beyond grunts and imagery, these kids were scrolling thru news feed reviewing another new language, one with the ability to jump in and out of each others lives with extraordinary access, communicating with symbols and gestures and posturing that no ancestor could have ever imagined.
I look over to a kid who has a handout from the class. Under the course title it says “the scientific study of language and its structure”. I imagine the studies that will be done about our way of communicating today, perhaps titled “the Facebook era”.
I think about all the texts being sent right now, good morning texts, happy thanksgiving texts, what I’m grateful for texts, pictures of scenes from family meals. At the same time, across the same cellular networks texts saying where to meet to demonstrate the Ferguson verdict, what to be against, coordination of outrage and how to love, how to hate.
Later, Scrolling thru Facebook as mindlessly as those kids in class, I wonder if all the thanksgiving themed posts and comments of gratitude happened only virtually or do the same posters remember to hold someone’s hand and say in person how they really feel and what matters most?
I climbed in bed reflecting on the day and thinking about the tuition money spent and all those kids on Facebook. I think about the restaurant we just returned from and my observation of entire groups of people sitting together and yet each one on their phones, together but not together at all. My judgment and vile disdain for all this overwhelms me sometimes.
Then I noticed the room I was trying to fall asleep in, it’s occupants reading from the glow of their phones before falling asleep, just like the souls I was judging. I had just sent a text to someone two rooms away asking them to bring me some water. I reflect on the fact that what I judge is so often what I’m also doing, just in a different form.
I wonder what the professor thinks about Facebook and twitter and all these new forms of communication?
I imagine the Indian elders and how they must have judged that first young man who introduced the idea of communication with symbols. I imagine it felt much the same way; judging change because it’s so different and can have the appearance of right and wrong so easily. Or Alexander Graham Bell suggesting we can talk and someone far away can hear us. All these things were preposterous at some point and countless others probably judged in a similar way I’m judging right now. History has such a way of repeating itself.
I begin to wonder if my judgment is simply my aversion to change.
I think of how much I love words and as a writer how much they express the parts of me that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day. I think of all the people I’ve interviewed who have talked about how they were totally isolated and alone, completely trapped within themselves for countless reasons until something like Facebook gave them a voice and an identity and a seat in so many rooms.
The professor continues the class talking about all the ways people communicate and the importance of diversity.. How critical it is to recognize we all learn and communicate in different ways. He tells those who are paying attention to him that the spoken word makes up for only 7% of how we communicate, the rest is in our delivery, the form of which we convey what we’re saying. No wonder we all love art and music so much.
I’ve spent years now totally puking judgment all over so many of us that are so addicted to our phones and so seemingly disconnected from the present moment, but in a matter of 20 minutes, this teacher has totally changed my world view. He’s completely wiped out my basis for judgment and provided me a completely different context for viewing things and the world.
I want to rid myself of useless, ineffective judgment so badly. I want to constantly widen my perspective and open my mind and stand in curiosity and non-judgement, recognizing that everything has a season and a reason and that often we just don’t see it in this tiny space of which we judge most things.
I look up the professor online and learn why he teaches linguistics: “I find it imperative that we all communicate and continue to advance the ways in which we express the inner most parts of ourselves. All advancement in society comes from the ability to effectively communicate”
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” ~ The Buddha