“The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” (J.B. Priestly)


In my six decades of life, I have witnessed an astonishing regression in mass media. In the 50’s, radio and newspapers were the dominant forms of mass communications. We had a TV but only three channels and reception was spotty at best. We willingly performed artistic movements with our rabbit ears antenna in order to achieve maximum clarity. Heck, I would have held the antenna over my head for an hour if it would have gotten me a better picture of Annette Funicello on the Mickey Mouse Club. Maybe that’s what we’re missing out on today, participation, the sense that somehow this is a team sport. The technology of today has made it so easy to get every last pixel, that we just don’t appreciate the quality of the content as much. Now we just flood our senses with unlimited stimuli and hope something sticks. I really doubt that we would be so addicted to smartphones today if we all had to wear beanies with antennas, just to get a signal.

Good communication is a two-way street based on interactions and exchanges of information. At its best, it’s unrehearsed, unedited and unstructured but full of facts and wisdom waiting to be discovered and reflected upon. I can still remember the night JFK went on TV to talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I went to bed that night wondering if I would still be alive the next day. I have only experienced that level of communication a few times in my life. In 1969 I watched Neil Armstrong take a Giant Leap on a color TV and in 2001 I watched America come crashing down on my big screen with 100 cable channels of coverage. Unfortunately, each of these historic events became progressively less clear to me because of the advancing technology. Watching live coverage of the WTC disaster should have been completely and easily understood but it wasn’t because too many people twisted the story to fit their personal narratives. Speculation isn’t communication, it’s deceit and it’s intentional. We can’t know much of anything by turning on a smartphone. Without the opportunity to ask questions and experience the human response we are only getting about 10% of the necessary information we need to make value judgements and gain some degree of real wisdom.

The last thing our current media wants is an exchange of information. They clearly don’t want us to know what they know and they go to great lengths to make sure that never happens. Here’s a quote from Lewis Mumford in 1951 that seems to predict exactly why we have this problem with the media… “With the further development in the 20th century of the telephone and the radio and ultimately television, all of the inhabitants of the planet could theoretically be linked together for instantaneous communication as closely as the inhabitants of a village. Indeed, it is conceivable, though not at all probable, that the Sermon on the Mount could now be preached to the greater part of all mankind at the moment it was uttered, provided such a notorious agitator as Jesus of Nazareth could be admitted to studios controlled mainly in the interests of commercial advertisers or totalitarian governments, and allowed to speak without submitting a prepared script.” Let’s replay that last part once more, “allowed to speak without submitting a prepared script.” Does anyone else find that statement to be deeply disturbing? And he said this in 1951!

If mankind is ever going to achieve its potential for greatness we have to start with effective communication. The Sermon on the Mount was one of the very first instances of mass communication and those words are still being repeated today because Jesus made his case for all of humanity with clarity, interaction and thoughtful responses to anyone who asked a question. His message and wisdom have been with us for 2000 years even though Gutenberg didn’t invent the printing press till the 1400’s. Communication that matters doesn’t need technology to facilitate it. Communication that matters is available to everyone every day but we’re going to have to put down our smartphones first. We’re going to have to look into the eyes of the person we are communicating with, feel their emotions and respect their views as we speak and if we fail to evoke the responses we are hoping for, we will have to try again until we get it right. Maybe, by struggling to communicate, we will begin to understand and empathize with others and find a better way for all of us to go forward into the future. When we get our response ratio up to 1 to 1 then we will have the bright future Jesus promised us.

©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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7 Responses to “The more we elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” (J.B. Priestly)

  1. Please tell me that youre heading to keep this up! Its so great and so important. I cant wait to read a lot more from you. I just feel like you know so substantially and know how to make people listen to what you might have to say. This blog is just too cool to become missed. Terrific stuff, genuinely. Please, PLEASE keep it up!

  2. Radhakrishna Medidi says:

    beautiful! Eye-opening! Modern technology in every sphere of our lives is complicating our value system and the human element is vanishing slowly. We no longer talk to live people when we call most of the utility or some commercial establishments.

    • grhgraph says:

      You’re right. The question is what can we do to change this? Human contact is so important to all of us and we all have to try harder to communicate. Thanks for sharing.

  3. anon27 says:

    The point about Jesus’ message lasting even without all that technology is a great point!
    I never thought of it like that.

  4. erka says:

    It is really enormous problem with our family. My son plays by smartphone, I work on the my computer, husband watch tv. Living life is strange nowadays.

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