How the past 70 years has damaged our ability to communicate

My Granddad was born in 1912 and died last year at the age of 99. I have just been reading his memoirs and he raised some really interesting points about community and how people used to interact with each other and how they interact now.

He grew up in a small mining community in rural Yorkshire in England. He witnessed massive change in his life – when he was a kid there was no electricity, hardly any cars, no toilets in the house and by the end of his life there was Facebook and Skype. Incidentally he thought Skype was incredible.

He is not a historian but just a regular bloke telling the story of parts of his life and the observations he has made on how life has changed.

In the memoirs he told stories about how intertwined peoples lives were and how the society worked together and supported each other. In those days all selling was face to face and usually from people you knew well.

For the past 60 or 70 years we have become used to an ever-increasing barrage of communications through an expanding range of media.

At the same time we have seen transport and communication links improve immeasurably and these amongst other things have led to the break up of local communities. He revisited the village he grew up in recently and it is now a suburb of Sheffield and he found that he didn’t know anyone and no one seemed to notice him – he said the place was soulless.

This is not true of everywhere in the world but is a pretty common theme in much of the developed world.

This is not an argument that we should go back to living in small insular communities where everyone knows everyone else’s business; but I think that there are some interesting points to be made about how people (and marketers) communicate nowadays and what we can learn from the old days.

Spam is an obvious example of poor communication but the problem extends beyond spam. As we are developing new communication tools at lightening speed there is the problem that people take time to learn to use the tools effectively.

I am going to highlight some examples of communications I have received in the past few days to help make my point:

1) Request for a reciprocal link:

Dear Sir/Ma’am,

As, I have gone through your website and I would like to invite you for link exchange with my website. I am pretty much sure that this would really help us to improve the rankings in major search engines and traffic. As you know that back links help to achieve desired search engine results & generating more relevant traffic towards the websites, so it would be mutually benefit for short we are loking for site who has at least google page rank…… Please let me know if you would be interested in pursuing this conversation further…

we have Quality websites related to seo services, web development, web designing………….etc.

Looking forward to your fast & positive reply…!!

With Regards

2) Offer of a guest post – this was sent to a client of ours who is not in the SEO field:

Hello, I am a writer for Expert Market – I am interested in contributing a guest post to your blog. Please let me know what you think of the following article topic – ‘How to Create Valuable Blog Posts’ – ‘Why SEO is Only Part of the Marketing Equation’ I would also be happy to create a custom post for you on a given topic. This would include one link back to my website. I look forward to hearing from you. Kind regards Amy

3) Article exchange request:

losing ability to communicate 1

4) One of the least compelling and most lazy pieces of outreach I have ever received:losing ability to communicate 25) Blog comment

Losing the ability to communicate 3

Now, all of these examples are perhaps the lower end of the scale – they are spam, sent by clueless opportunists why bank on a very small response rate that allows them to scrape a living. I didn’t include the letter from a Nigerian widow who has inherited $10 million and needs me to help her claim in order to not be robbed by the tax authorities as I am still considering whether I should take her up on the offer or not 😉

But this article is not just about spamming and what a true waste of your life it really is, but it is about the rest of us; the so called marketers and intelligent communicators. Are we innocent of crap communication?

Confession time – I am not!

This has been by Twitter “Thank you for following me” message for the past few months:

My Twitter Thank You Message




What an arrogant pile of crap; why on earth would anyone respond to that? Most people do have problems with their business but they are not likely to admit them or be open to discussing them with someone they just met on Twitter and have no trust of, especially as he has just insulted them with the first communication.

I have now changed it to something more specific, that, although sales related does actually hold some value for the recipient.

I had a look at some others – apologies if you have been named and shamed here but at least it will hopefully be a wake up call for you:

Twitter DM inbox

If my grandad got a message like this he would be confused for a while and would then bin it – which is what 99% of us are doing with each others messages.

Looking at my email inbox and my Twitter feed there is a mountain of crap. Facebook is good as I have not made friends with anyone who I am not actually friends with and in some rare cases where I have accepted a friend request because “I ought to” for whatever reason – e.g. knowing that I went to school with them but cannot for the life of me remember them. I did once start to follow a few people that I respect in the business world on Facebook and my feed quickly filled up with stuff I have no interest in so I revoked that decision.

So, have we lost the ability to communicate?

No, I do not think so but we are struggling with the new tools of communication and how exactly to get the best results out of them.

I also think that for around 70 years our societies have become ever more private; we now have a lower tolerance for sharing the intimate details of our life with others. Going back to my grandad – here is an extract of one of the stories he told:

In some of the terraced houses, with yards rather than gardens, and often in rural areas where semi-detached cottages were the order of things, neighbours had to share a lavatory. In these circumstances, two-seaters were common. The buildings were twice as wide as ours and the seats had two holes. I have it on the most reliable authority that sitting beside your neighbour on the occasions of your visits at the same time led to the exchange of the most intimate information. It also gave unrivalled opportunity to observe all manner of detail from the state of your neighbour’s underwear to the dimensions of the gentleman’s genitals. And this information rapidly became common knowledge.

When people live in those circumstances they get to know each other very well indeed.

Social media has in many ways made the world less private, in a sense, taking us back a little bit:- people are sharing more of their lives, in some cases more than is palatable for others, with wider groups of contacts than they have for a very long time. When I post an update on Facebook I consider who the likely recipients are and tend to refrain from going all out but many friends do not; which has funny yet unanticipated consequences – many unspoken.

Therefore I think that as our societies have “virtually” moved back to the larger communities that existed when my Grandad was a kid there are certain lessons that can be taken from that generation.

What have I learned about marketing from my Grandad?

Marketing is about building relationships and making connections between people and companies. To really sell in the era of social media there does need to be a relationship based on trust and respect.

  • If I would be embarrassed to send a communication of any type to my best friend then I should not be sending it at all.
  • With social media I should imagine that I am selling in a local butchers shop or bakery in the 1920’s – here is another extract to help make this point:

“The one with the business head was Aunt Annie. Small, almost round, in immaculate dress and her starched pinafore she bounced around the shop like a sorbo ball – always with a smile on her face and a cheerful greeting for her customers. She knew them all and always enquired after members of their families and knew just how to draw attention to items she knew interested every one of them. ‘Now Mrs. Smith, she’ll be looking to see if I have any jars of boiled baby beetroot or my homemade chutney – ah here’s Mrs. Jones, Mamie have we any speckled oranges?’ She spent hours in the evenings making her jars of all manner of preserves from pears, raspberries, red and black currants, beetroot, carrots, beans – all from the orchards, as the smallholding was called.”

3 thoughts on “How the past 70 years has damaged our ability to communicate

  1. Is your grandfather’s memoir going to get published? Seems like he has some wisdom we could all use.

    I think this post contains a vital observation that requires online marketers to take action. Having the ability to more easily communicate is great, but to be able to communicate effectively is a must. The internet provides a medium to make connections with others all around the world, but if we aren’t sincere in our intentions, it’s simply noise.

  2. Hi Annalisa
    Yes exactly – the thing is that everyone is fed up of noise – we get junk mail through the post that we have to ignore (or actually pay for a service to remove it from our mail), we have email inboxes overflowing with rubbish and now social media is full of it too and all of it just gets ignored. Those marketers who are doing this kind of marketing need to realise that just doing something does not equate to doing something productive. You need to consider the human being on the receiving end of your communication. Sounds so simple and obvious so it is incredible to think that companies spend billions worldwide each year on this – as it worked for a while until everyone just tuned out.

  3. Oh – and no it will not be published – it’s just for family really. Also he never finished it – only covered his childhood – great story though I was definitely keen to read more than the existing 65 pages – such a shame that he hadn’t started it earlier and got it all down as he had a very interesting life – professional footballer and cricketer – not many of those all round sportsmen nowadays!

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