No Communication without Common Experiences

I was having lunch last week with Richard Miles, a local radio executive,  and Devon Pasquariello, an up-and-coming marketing executive in an up-and-coming local marketing firm. Richard is just a few years younger than me, but Devon is younger by decades. We talked for a bit about an idea that I’ve had for a call-in radio show about computers. (Sure it sounds boring but who would have thought that Car Talk would have lasted so long and reached so many.) We decided on a plan to move forward with a way to test the concept without committing anyone to anything long term just yet.

With the primary purpose of our lunch meeting concluded, we started chatting about things in general. I realized how truly fragmented our societal references have become in the age of hundreds of TV channels and millions of Internet sites. Richard and I grew up in a time when everybody had the same entertainment experiences so we had a common reference for things. Poor Devon could easily have been amongst people speaking Navajo for as much as she could keep up with the references.

There was an episode of Star Trek TNG where Picard must learn to communicate with a species that only speaks in metaphors and analogies. The Enterprise crew can’t figure out how to talk to them because they don’t share the common experiences to give the references meaning. That’s what’s happening to us! We can’t reference sudden and tragic loss by mentioning Henry Blake. Or Edith Bunker. We can’t express cool with “Aaay!” We can’t even speak to a person’s incompetence with the phrase, “Goober.” Too many people are unfamiliar with the references.

I don’t have an answer. I just make the observation that we need a common set of experiences to be bound together as a people. If we don’t figure out how to get them we’re all going to drift toward tiny clusters of folks who can’t communicate effectively outside our clusters. Tragic.

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