Dearth of real human expression
by Michael J Bowler
One of the main themes of my new novel, Children of the Knight, is the dearth of real human expression between people in this overly technological 21st Century, especially amongst kids and young people. Reading seems to be a lost art form these days, but books have always been and will hopefully continue to be one of the most effective ways to communicate basic human truths. Books take us to places we might never go and expose us to people we might never have met otherwise. Watching characters interact and communicate effectively, or ineffectively, can teach readers valuable lessons, especially young readers. Texting and Facebook messages barely qualify as real communication.
As a man from the distant past, King Arthur in my story only knows how to communicate face-to-face, or through the use of human messengers. Even books are rather foreign to him. Despite his initial reticence about even using modern technology, Arthur soon finds himself slipping into the same trap as virtually everyone else in this era––use of texting to try and communicate feelings because that method is so quick and painless. In so doing, he tragically forgets that people need face-to-face interactions, and children, in particular, need personal affirmations of love and support. A text message just doesn’t cut it.
Are kids today too removed from real human feelings because they do all their talking through texting or Facebook? It’s easier to communicate in these ways because the other person can’t gauge your sincerity or honesty by looking into your eyes or even hearing the tone of your voice. So if you want to shine somebody on, technology provides the perfect resource. But surely sending someone you love a smiley face can’t hold a candle to actually holding that person’s hand and seeing the smile that basic human contact elicits, can it?
And what about the emotion within the human face and voice? Seriously, do all caps really tell you someone is shouting and indicate the tone of that shouting? OF COURSE NOT! Most of how we communicate is through language, but the tone of voice can take the same words and fill them with love or contempt. And what of body language and facial expression? What about looking someone right in the eye? If you get a text that says, “I love you more than life itself,” does that mean anything? If someone tells you that face to face and you’re looking right into his or her eyes when the words are spoken, are you more likely to gauge their sincerity correctly? Of course you are.
So much goes wrong for Arthur and his kids in this story because of miscommunication, not only missed text messages, but also because of the reticence of the characters to share their feelings with those they care about. The things we don’t say to each other in life are often the most important, and sometimes in the course of events the opportunity to say something important may only arise once and never again. Or situational circumstances can spiral out of control and there ends up being no time to say those words you wanted to say until it’s far too late.
The characters in Children of the Knight learn this lesson in some very harsh, unforgiving ways, and it’s likely been at times a painful reality for many of us, too. I think instant messages and texting are great for communicating insignificant information like what time you plan to meet someone at the gym. But saying “I love you” to somebody for the first time via text or message loses everything valuable those words convey, including the tone, the eye contact, the shy tilt of the mouth into a smile of endearment, everything that makes us human.
Likewise, arguing or insulting somebody via text or messaging is idiotic and counterproductive. When we have an issue with someone we need to confront that person and talk it out and reach a resolution, one that both parties can read on the other’s face and in the other’s eyes. We’re not machines yet, so shouldn’t we stop acting like them?
As Arthur tells Lance in Children of the Knight, “In this era you have found so many ways to communicate you have forgotten the most important-–face to face.” Books can help model good communication, even if society doesn’t, and the more kids read, the less likely they’ll completely lose the ability to be human.
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Genre – Edgy Young Adult
Rating – PG13