The Men and Women without Quality
If the internet has taught us anything, it's that one need not have something to say in order to talk. But the pathologically empty vlogs posted to YouTube boggle the mind. The strange, unconscious reflexivity of these videos, people speaking about having nothing to say -- coupled with the reality of a person sitting alone in a room, speaking into the impenetrable gaze of a camera -- reveals a fundamental shift in both interpersonal relations and how the individual relates to society itself, Lacan's big Other.
The massive leaps in communication technologies have come about under the compartmentalized ideology of human interaction: On one hand, technologies like video conferencing, instant messaging, forums, email, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube make the claim that they are "bringing people together." These technologies claim to close the communications gap in the global village. However, they draw us together by tethering us ineluctably to fundamental structural means of alienation, an abstracting of communication through technology, removing the anxiety-producing proximity of physical human interaction.
It comes as no surprise then that younger generations turn to abstracted, technologized communication as the dominant form of their discourse. Nor does it come as a surprise that many of these people lack the basic verbal and non-verbal communication skills necessary for face-to-face confrontations. The practice of learning either of them is no longer mandatory and inexorable when abstracted communication has become virtually cost-free and standard issue.
Two decades ago, speaking to others via the medium of film cost significantly more in terms of labor and matériel. You probably had to get a summer job just to get mics and a film camera, and the presence of so many expensive pieces of equipment tended to humiliate you into learning to use them properly. When the device comes free with the laptop mom and dad bought for school work, you feel no negative consequence for failing to conceive of any productive use of it. It's just a toy that does things, and whatever those things are can be aimless, fractured and dead on arrival without either the toy or its creations amounting to much of a rebuke.
Like writing, public speaking is also work. There's a reason why people take classes in it, why it's both a talent and a skill. Even speakers born with natural charisma must learn to harness their nervous energy to a positive purpose, to project and enunciate, to practice the forms that their natural gifts can make seem formless. They dare to do something, however small its focus. The act of speaking publicly is profoundly vulnerable, one that risks never seizing another's attention while also conceding that even those willing to listen will leave unmoved, unpersuaded and uninterested.