Monday, October 19, 2009

Communication Breakdown

When I was young and I wanted talk to a friend I had two options: call them or go to their house. If they lived far away, I had to call them long distance (sparingly) or write them a letter and wait days or weeks to hear back.

As you know, the ways to stay in touch with friends and family have changed dramatically in a short time. E-mail, texting, free long distance, video chat, non-video online chat, blogs, facebook, myspace, etc... These methods are wonderful when used to stay in touch with friends and family who live far away, but when it comes to loved ones who live nearby, I think they might be overused. Are we connecting emotionally less? I don't know. I haven't done any research on this, it's just something I've been thinking about.

From time to time I stay with a friend's teenage kids while she and her husband are out of town. When the teenage girl gets home from school, the first thing she does is get on her laptop and starts chatting online with her friends. I did something similar when I was her age, except that I called my friends on the phone after school. When she wants to communicate with a guy she's crushing on, she does so via Facebook or some kind of online chat. I didn't have that option at her age - I had to either call the guy I liked or talk to him at school. I know I sound old school when I say this, but I wonder if there's something dangerous or numbing about the one step removal from voice to voice communication. I could be wrong, it's just something I'm curious about. Does it make it easier to say things you would not say (or should not say) in person? Do you feel as close to your friends when you're not hearing their voices or seeing their faces? Does the same bonding occur? Does it make you more lonely?

Don't get me wrong, I don't hate technology. I think all these things can be used for good and quite frankly, I use all of them. And maybe I'm being a hypocrite. After all, I grew up without this technology and heaven knows I'm no master communicator because of it! But still, I can't help but wonder. The changes in communication technology all happened so fast that we haven't really had a chance to think about them. Some things have become normal that maybe shouldn't be.

Here are a few more questions/thoughts I've had on the subject:

1.) Is it ok to ask someone on a first date via e-mail? This has happened to me several times, and while it doesn't offend me, it also doesn't give me the butterflies being asked on the phone or in person does.

2.) Should you make a major announcement in a Facebook status update before you've told your family and close friends? This includes pregnancies, engagements, or life decisions.

3.) Do you find yourself always using an e-card to replace a paper card for your closest friends/relatives (for anniversaries, holidays, birthdays...)? I do this a lot, and I'm not saying it's a bad thing necessarily, I'm just wondering if it's over done.

4.) This last one is more of a statement than a question: long texting conversations do not count as real conversations. This is especially confusing when it comes to dating. So often after a friend of mine has gone on a good date, I'll ask her later, "So, have you heard from him since the date?" And she'll say, "well, he texted me..." with a confused sound in her voice. When it comes to dating, texting is confusing. Who's with me on this? I'm not saying it should be banned, but I think it should be used sparingly, at least at the beginning of a relationship.

I know this post is a bit random and out of character for me but I have been thinking about this stuff lately and I thought I'd post about it. I'd love any insights you have. I really hope this post doesn't sound judgemental - I just think that sometimes we use technology when it would be more appropriate to actually talk to each other. (Ironic that I'm communicating these thoughts to you via my blog, no?)


Angela said...

Elder Bednar actually sort of addresses this idea in the CES fireside talk from May 2009. Basically that the overuse of these types of communcation(s) diminishes the importance of the physical and things as they really are. Interesting thoughts... When did we as a society become so emotionally afraid of each other? Perhaps it's when civility began to decline? There was a time when intentions were clearly communicated - either in person or in a direct letter, or even over the phone in later times. But anymore, it's "safer" emotionally to just send a text or an email or a chat or a facebook message or whatever... because then the ball is in the other person's court. As far as relationships go.
I agree, though, all of these resources are great for keeping up with old friends :) though, these avenues should not be the primary source of communication for those with whom you are closest. It removes the personal element. it's no longer one on one... there's some form of technology as the middle man! anyway. could i drone on any longer?

Kwo Ling said...

It's convenient. I can have a text message conversation while working on something else. Although I can think of an example where it is from an emotional disconnect, I think it depends on the intent not the technology.

Amy said...

I think it can depend on the person and the situation. Sometimes a text message can feel very personal - you're both doing something else, but you have a chance to share your thoughts with each other as you're doing it. Sometimes it can feel disconnecting, like the person is avoiding an actual conversation by letting a text or Facebook message suffice. Sometimes being able to write something via email allows you to address concerns that would be hard to bring up in person, which then makes it easier to talk about them in person afterwards.

One of my biggest issues with our current technology is that it creates an expectation of constant availability. I am expected to always be by my phone or my computer and therefore to be able to respond within hours, if not minutes or even seconds, to any communication, and I expect that of other people, not always even consciously. It can hurt more when someone delays or neglects responding to you because you know they have ample opportunity, or that they could easily make that opportunity if they wanted to. And yet I know that I myself delay responses sometimes for perfectly innocuous reasons.

Mark Bowman said...

I'm with Amy on the constant availability expectations. I own a cell phone but most of the time I leave it at home, and occasionally turn it off on the weekends. Friends have complained that I'm hard to get a hold of. My response is that there is a difference between sponteneity and poor planning skills.

My students find out the hard way that I really am not available on Sunday, and emails about work that is due Monday morning don't get read before class.

1) Emails have the advantage and disadvantage of not being in real time. While you can't see or hear the reactions of the person at the other end, you can edit the text and attempt to sound more like yourself and less like an awkward teenager.

2) If I ever get pregnant, I'll announce it on CNN, and you can download my Oprah interview on YouTube.

3) I still buy birthday cards for my parents and siblings. Everyone else gets an electronic greeting. If I really value our friendship, I may enclose a provocative image of me in a bridesmaid's dress.

4) Even if text communication is easier, it's a poor substitute for a face-to-face conversation.

I look forward to chatting with some of you in person on Friday and observing non-verbals clues as to when I've gone on too long.

And yes, I did type this at work.

Katherine said...

Well, you guys have covered it! ;) I also think that any form of electronic communication should be used based on the situation. If I'm dating a guy and he is constantly texting me when he could be calling, I get annoyed. I think a phone call is much better, and though I can also see the benefits of being able to multi-task (with texts), the focus that someone shows with a phone call shows a sense of priority. If someone is important to you, you shouldn't have to fit them in with a quick text message, you should take time out and focus on them alone.
I think that important announcements should NEVER be made on Facebook until after you've told family, close friends, and a few peripheries. I prefer word-of-mouth rather than Newsfeed.
As far as cards, I agree with Mark, except for the bridesmaid's dress comment.
Oh, and a first date should always, in my opinion, be asked in person or over the phone. I think the way Leopold handles things in the movie "Kate and Leopold" is a bit of an ideal for me! ;)

Marilyn said...

Ii was just going to suggest that you read Elder Bednar's talk, from a CES Fireside, but I see your first commentor already mentioned that talk. It is soooo good.

Elizabeth Downie said...

Yes, I actually heard that talk when he gave it. You're right - it's REALLY good!!

Grant said...

I agree, I think people should talk on the phone or face to face as much as possible. That degree of separation really makes the whole act of communicating fundamentally different! I know people that will not call you unless it's really important they will only text and I feel a bit put off sometimes. I definitely try not to be, but I just can't help it! Major announcements should be done in person period! E-cards are for co-workers you don't really like or acquaintances only, it's tacky and cheap for a birthday or anniversary card. It's for a middle of the week cheer you up kinda card I think. Just my opinion. Texting doesn't count as a "real" conversation! Call each other more! Call me anytime!!