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When words are not enough


“Give a teenager a job, while they still know everything”

Photo: File

Not many people know this, but by the age of 15 I was well on my way to solving all of the world’s most pressing problems.

The sad thing is that over the years I have become so busy with those other inconveniences called getting an education and earning a living, that I have forgotten most of the things that needed to be done to fix the planet.

It’s true what some people say, “Give a teenager a job, while they still know everything”.

My small band of friends and I would get into deep discussions about what needed to be done. We’d sit around and talk things through and dream and make plans of how to help the mindless adults get some perspective and we’d, of course, strategise how we’d get rich off our input, and how we’d spend our millions – back then ‘billions’ was a strange concept.

Then, the other day I happened to be in Cape Town and I looked up one of those friends again after more than 30 years. We took a walk through Sea Point, bought ice cream and spoke for a good few hours. We shared what had been happening in our lives, what obstacles we’d encountered and what dreams we still had. We sat there chomping down ice cream and speaking.

These days conversation, really speaking and listening to others, is rare.

The social media mindset has infected everything. These days conversations are often peppered with, “Look at this picture on my phone”, or “Just watch this video, you’ll love it”, or “You simply HAVE to read this message I received last week from cousin Tamsy”.

Wait a second, don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that the 15-year-old genius I mentioned earlier has become an impatient and intolerant grump. There are times that sharing a video, a picture or a message can fit perfectly into a conversation, by all means; but it should be the garnish, and not the meat and potatoes of the discussion.

Most people these days share quotes, picture messages and video clips on social media; and there’s not much wrong with that except in my case – my trusty old phone is around six years old and there’s no more storage space, not even for a full stop.

Besides, when I see that a WhatsApp message has been “forwarded” I feel as if the message wasn’t originally intended for me, and I feel disinclined to open it.

You have to make these hard decisions when you’re running low on storage space.

It seems to me that picture messages, as pretty as they are, are just a way of tickling your emotions so that the message can be more acceptable.

I believe that this is testable. If you type out a text message – even better if it’s a simple SMS – that says: “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive”, you’ll probably get a few responses and acknowledgements. But add that same quote to a powerful graphic of a woman battered and bleeding with a smile on her tear-streaked face, and people will swoon with emotion.

We, as humans, just seem to respond better to things that stir our emotions.

Maybe this is why many organisations have such skilled spokespersons and spin doctors on their payrolls. Perhaps it’s become so bad that to tell people the plain facts about a situation will just not do any more.

It seems that a belief is gaining momentum that people need to be entertained, and facts have to be woven into some beautiful, elaborate tapestry even if it contains some alternative facts and innuendo.

However, as my old phone has no space for picture messages, my brain has no space for these verbal tapestries. In my opinion, if a spokesperson is the hardest working person in an organisation, then the organisation is probably not working all that hard.

And I wish my 15-year-old self could have been here to help me figure out what to do about this.