At Your Service: March 24, 2010

Has anyone else noticed that it is getting harder and harder to understand what people are saying on television? What began as an effort to squeeze more information into each sound bite has grown into a form of rapid speech that is almost impossible to understand.
At the same time, it seems that they have changed the rules for what it takes to be a spokesperson. In a previous life I entertained the possibility of doing television voice-overs. The very first thing that I learned was that a neutral “American” accent was essential. That means that the less identifiable your accent sounded, the better.
Last night I did a random mini-survey of voiceovers. During one hour of primetime television there were 15 different announcements/commercials: three were in Hispanic accents, two were what might be termed “urban ethnic,” one reflected origins in the Mideast, four were the traditional “American” accent and the final five were clearly identifiable as coming from a celebrity or cartoon character.
The combined impact of these two trends gives us the fast-talking multi-national celebrity spokesperson. It has led us to a time when almost everyone can miss the meaning of about half of what is on the air at any given point. This is further complicated by the frequent appearance of bulletins, information and promotions scrolling across the bottom and top of the screen.
A case could certainly be made that it is a good thing that we don’t understand everything being said to us, but I fear it is leading us to a more detrimental place – a place where we stop listening to one another.
The partisan tone of our politics has increasingly taken a vitriolic tone. It seems to be dominated by those who refuse to listen to one another, instead presenting their own points of view in an increasingly loud voice over and over. There can be no compromise between people who are not listening to one another’s needs or words.
These are very scary times and change is everywhere. Health care reform is now law and it will impact the life of everyone in this area, particularly those used to going to the emergency rooms for all their health care needs and those struggling to pay employees week after week. Schools and every other recipient of government funds are besieged by underfinanced mandates while the state battles to avoid bankruptcy. Individuals confront whatever circumstances have impacted their lives in an iffy economy.
More than at any time in most of our lives, we need to be listening to one another. The future is not self-evident and hinges on our ability to thrive in the face of problems. We have our differing points of view and that is our strength. This nation was built on people finding compromises that serve us all better than our individual solutions would have – it is our real strength.
Rather than follow the lead of television, where things are harder and harder to understand, we need to speak as clearly as we can and listen with the same acuity.