Advances in ways and means of communication are perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the present age. Every thought, idea and action isn’t just communicated instantly from one person to another, but is broadcasted to the world at large. There’s a massive proliferation of channels of communication and massive progress in the ease of communication. And yet, amid the din and drone of all the voices speaking simultaneously, actual communication is lost somewhere, frayed at the edges and worn out with misuse. The breakdown of communication in society is conveyed with astonishing precision in the Theatre of the Absurd, which predates the boom of communication and media by at least a century. Theatre of the Absurd, represented particularly by Samuel Beckett, the grand master of the genre, was a post World War-II phenomenon and primarily focused on the ‘futility of human endeavour in a meaningless universe’. But more specifically, Beckett’s contribution was on the lines of the breakdown of human communication. Beckett portrayed the ‘meaningless of human existence’ through meaningless conversation. The chief purpose of communication is to channel thoughts, to convey meaning. But Beckett distanced words from the thoughts they sought to convey, creating hollow conversation that just meanders on and on without purpose. To that extent, the characters in his famous plays all indulge in monologues, not dialogues. And that is the first and most striking resemblance that Beckett’s plays bear to the strange kind of communication existing in our times. Monologues instead of dialogues. A dialogue is the chief means of conversation but a monologue represents only one person voicing out his thoughts with no focus on the others in the scene, no focus on their opinions and ideas. Now consider the social media phenomenon that we take for actual communication. Our Facebook posts, tweets on Twitter , Instagram pictures and so on aren’t actually addressed to anyone in particular. They’re the quintessential monologues of the modern age, where we merely broadcast our opinions to the world at large, and the only ‘reactions’ we look for are those that endorse our point of view. The conversations thus created aren’t really dialogues. They’re just a bunch of monologues created by people seeking similar ends — attention, praise and self-promotion. Exactly the same symptoms characterise the media channels of the modern age. Far from being the facilitators of communication, media channels too are absorbed in monologues of their own kind—spreading information cherry picked for their own ends, and holding ‘panel discussions’ only to shout down and shut out the people voicing differing opinions. Monologues, all. Repetition was another of the tools so deftly utilised by Beckett in his plays — repetition of the same sentences, meaningless and confusing — without any ends whatsoever. And that precisely, is what characterises communication in the modern age — particularly when it comes to social and broadcast media. The same statements, the same rhetoric, the same monologues of uninspired, illogical and destructive messaging are being circulated over and over with much fervour. Beckett’s plays were known for being ‘circular’ in their plotlines, signifying the superficiality of changes. Even after a century of their publication, their striking resemblance to our current state of existence cannot be denied. We live, undeniably, in one big bubble of meaningless monologues and circular patterns. True communication then, would be to break the bubble. To create actual dialogue and pay attention to the other’s point of view — even though it be diametrically opposite to yours. That’s the only way to bring some semblance of sanity and actual meaning to our lives.

Columnist: 
Zehra Naqvi