Does Anyone Really Listen?

Last Sunday, I made a trip to the local KFC outlet for our annual fast-food fried chicken fix.  When I arrived inside, I was greeted by an enthusiastic server – male, twentyish, Caucasian, speaking unaccented Utah American, asking for my order. I told him, very distinctly, that I wanted, “Two two-piece meals, extra-crispy, each one with a wing and a breast, one with coblet and wedges, the other with wedges and macaroni and cheese.”

He immediately told me that it would be a ten minute wait for the original recipe thighs and wings.  I pointed out that I’d ordered wings and breasts.  He said that I’d still have to wait for the wings.  I pointed out that I’d ordered extra crispy, not original recipe.

All I’d said to him was my order.  I was the only customer. I was polite.  I didn’t whisper, and I didn’t yell. Why wasn’t he listening?  He wasn’t wearing IPod earphones.

One of the reasons I carry a list of my books in print with me to signings and conventions is because I’ve learned that even many readers can’t remember what I said a few minutes before.  I don’t remind them of this, not when my objective is to sell more books. I just circle the book in question on the list and hand them the paper.

My wife had to tell a clerk at a local store three times what pieces of dinnerware she wanted ordered, and then had to call back three times because the order had somehow been forgotten.

I’d like to think that these are unusual occurrences.  Unhappily, they’re not.  Every teacher in my wife’s department reports happenings like this, day after day. Students ask, “When was that due?” not three minutes after they’ve been told, sometimes when the date is also on the assignment sheet right in front of them.

On a related note, I’ve also seen at least five different reports in the media stating that rates of criminality don’t differ at all between American citizens and illegal immigrants. Yet, time and time again, I see anti-immigrant rhetoric deploring the higher crime rates of immigrants… or claims of higher crime rates in Arizona at the same time that the FBI has listed Phoenix as one of the five safest cities in the United States.  Yes… I know that certain border communities have higher crime rates… but that’s like claiming American citizens are more prone to crime because certain sections of New York City or any other large American city have high crime rates.

Has the proliferation of blackberries, Iphones, and the like resulted in acute hearing loss, or accelerated attention deficit disorder?  Impaired short-term memory loss?

Or is it because, with modern communications, we can increasingly tune out anything we don’t want to hear, immerse ourselves only in the music and news that suits us, and refuse to talk to anyone except those on our personal e-communications net?

10 thoughts on “Does Anyone Really Listen?”

  1. Derek says:

    To be honest, I’m probably the most guilty of this. I was raised, for better or worse… but likely worse, by television, video games, and the internet. Lately I’m noticing the instances where I’ve had the attention span of a gnat. It could be called a handicap but that would be misleading, as it seems very selective. If I’m not interested in a subject, I conveniently tune it out. This has had some very far reaching repercussions.

    I’d agree that technology of “convenience,” is a major cause. With digital spreadsheets, nearly instant

    The example given by Mr. Modesitt, students asking the teacher about when a paper is due three minutes after the teacher had stated it, or when the due date was stated on the paper itself. That is probably the real-world equivalent of a person going to Google to prepare for their upcoming exam rather than the text book. It’s easier to ‘ask Google’ than to find out for yourself.

    Not advocating becoming a Luddite or anything but, shouldn’t we consider regulation of certain technologies to anyone in their developmental years? Perhaps we should at least be certified capable of organizing our own lives before we get ourselves a digital planner to do it for us?

  2. David Sims says:

    Mr. Modesitt, you shouldn’t necessarily believe what you hear on the media about racial equality in crime perpetration rates. The sources to trust, on this subject, are the FBI Uniform Crime Reports and Statistical Abstract of the United States. Go directly to them. Do not rely on the press or the TV media to summarize them honestly. They won’t. They are run at high executive levels by men with a social agenda that requires the public to remain ignorant, to the extent possible, of the racial gaps in per capita rates of crime perpetration.

    In jurisdictions where Latino and White crimes have been separately tracked, the per-capita crime perpetration rates of Latinos is about three times higher than that of Whites.

    Of course, the Latinos aren’t nearly so crime-prone as Blacks are. Depending on the crime, Blacks are (usually) between seven and 25 times more likely, on a per capita basis, to commit crime as Whites are. For certain crimes, Blacks are over 200 times more likely than Whites to be perpetrators — again, that’s on a per capita basis, or, in other words, adjusted for population size.

    If you know of somewhere I could upload the images, or if you have a Facebook account, I can show you graphs showing crime rates as a function of race, made from data taken from the two sources I named. The correlation is very clear and can be demonstrated in several ways.

  3. Derek says:

    The statistics you bring up are more likely telling of a correlation between poverty and crime, not race. Per-capita Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be low-income or on government assistance. Having family who works regularly in these neighborhoods for the state of Nevada, it has little to do with race and everything to do with a culture developed around poverty.

    By taking one factor, Race, and running statistics based on that… Doesn’t that imply you have a bias? Did we take family(single parent home or?), neighborhood, income, and level of education into account? I swear, you go into anything with a bias and you can find statistics to back up your argument.

    Not sure your charts would be very convincing.

    1. To re-emphasize what Derek pointed out… higher crime rates have always been associated with poverty, and that is often, but not always, associated in turn with recent immigration. In the 1850s, the highest crime rates in New York City belonged to the white Irish… many of whose descendants are now claiming that it’s a racial/genetic trait.

      1. Rob says:

        I’m sorry Derek, but while I agree that the sole use of race as a link towards criminal behavior would be a bias yes. Whether you like it or not, there is a correlation between race and crime. Not a causative factor necessarily, but definately a link. Underlying Race has further subcorrelations for instance, do Whites with an income of <$20K have the same statistical probability to commit a violent crime as a black or hispanic with an income of <$20K. Do disregard a study just for the sole fact that it includes RACE would also be a bias.

  4. Speaker says:

    Here is an example yet again of getting what we pay for (or not).
    The phrase “Pay Attention” is profound. If one doesn’t expend effort over time (physics definition of work) then no work occurs and nothing is gained. As you illustrated, hearing isn’t the same as listening with understanding. It seems obvious that this clerk believed his job was to enter something into his terminal over a certain period of time, rather than serving the customer’s needs. I too had college students who appeared to view their job as submitting to confinement in a classroom for a short period of time rather than gleaning meaning from the information and skills I presented during the class.

  5. jks9199 says:

    You have to be careful assessing any crime rate. The two primary tools in the US are the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which tracks crimes reported to, classified by, and investigated by the police and the National Crime Victimization Survey, in which a hopefully representative sample is asked about whether or not they’ve been the victim of a crime. Neither is perfect; for obvious reasons, the National Crime Victimization Survey doesn’t include murder (the victims are notoriously bad at answering survey questionnaires) and the police can sometimes reclassify offenses to create the impression they desire — nor does the UCR include any crimes not reported.

    That said — people don’t listen. They may never have; I don’t know. Professionally, I spend a lot of time talking to people and asking them questions. It’s amazing how often people simply don’t register what is being said. Sometimes it’s do to distraction, other times it’s because they are so busy planning their response that they don’t realize what you’ve said.

  6. Caitlin says:

    I think to a certain extent the world has become an increasingly distracting place and that wouldn’t be such a problem except that the time to deal with these distractions has also been cut down. It becomes that much more obvious when visiting “preserved towns” (I’m thinking of a place called Sovereign Hill which is an enclosed town for tourists to visit that demonstrates life in the 1850’s, complete with authentic housing, advertisements, shops and actors) or watching old movies.

    I believe that people have only ever listened to what they want to hear but with more time they are able to think coherently instead of just zooming in onto one comment or idea. If rushed or distracted they think only of what they think they need to get out of the conversation.

    I wouldn’t say that it is a generational thing as I often find older people fail to listen properly. I find that writing exactly what you want down on paper makes people think a bit harder and you’re more likely to get an accurate response.

    As for students, unfortunately education is seen as the route to getting a decent job and all they need to get is that shiny piece of paper and they’ll be set. They don’t get that they’re being hired for the skills they’ve supposed to have learnt. If there aren’t any penalties or if they think they can escape them then they will continue to act as they do. A majority of students think they can multi-task their lectures and homework and that they can study full-time at university, have a part time job and a raging social life all at once. They learn quickly that doing their assignments at 1am the day its due is not a good idea and that they will not do that again. But next assignment comes around and because the penalties on their work are slight the same thing happens again.

    Part of the problem is that the system is organised to be nice to everyone and not just the people that need it. For example at the university I study at you have a due date for your assignments and if you don’t hand it in on the day then every day after that you receive a 2% penalty to your mark until 2 weeks after the due date and you fail. Why? In certain workplaces, such as the military, not performing tasks on time leads to serious consequences, even working in other areas you’ll end up fired if you keep turning in your work late. If there are reasons beyond the control of the person that have prevented them (and they have proof) then be lenient.

    Unfortunately not being able to listen seems to be a societal problem and will only get worse if people are let off lightly or protected from the consequences. People learn that if it is just a bit late they’ll be ok, that if they don’t pay attention then it is ok. Then unfortunately for some reality kicks in and they’re no longer protected from the full extent of their actions.

  7. Bob says:

    Toxic information and cognitive dissonance. Fear. There is such a concerted effort in the media to distort and misrepresent even the simplest factual information, its a wonder we can function at all. In biological systems, toxic information results in the break down of the organism and death. We have a kind of cultural poisoning going on, a very short-sighted strategy.

  8. To be honest, I’m probably the most guilty of this. I was raised, for better or worse… but likely worse, by television, video games, and the internet. Lately I’m noticing the instances where I’ve had the attention span of a gnat. It could be called a handicap but that would be misleading, as it seems very selective. If I’m not interested in a subject, I conveniently tune it out. This has had some very far reaching repercussions.

    I’d agree that technology of “convenience,” is a major cause. With digital spreadsheets, nearly instant

    The example given by Mr. Modesitt, students asking the teacher about when a paper is due three minutes after the teacher had stated it, or when the due date was stated on the paper itself. That is probably the real-world equivalent of a person going to Google to prepare for their upcoming exam rather than the text book. It’s easier to ‘ask Google’ than to find out for yourself.

    Not advocating becoming a Luddite or anything but, shouldn’t we consider regulation of certain technologies to anyone in their developmental years? Perhaps we should at least be certified capable of organizing our own lives before we get ourselves a digital planner to do it for us?

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