The downward spiral of communication

I am becoming more and more convinced that, as a society, we are in a downward spiral when it comes to communication.  Don’t get me wrong…we have more ways to communicate with one another than we did 5, 10, 15 years ago.  Communication has sped up and has allowed us to get more immediate feedback.  And communication has become more efficient.  But I believe one-on-one; interpersonal communication is changing rapidly…and in a lot of cases for the worse.  Allow me to give you a couple examples from my own life:
(1) I was checking my Facebook account one day when I received a message from a parishioner here in town.  She had a question for me.  So naturally I wrote back, answering her question.  A minute or so later she responded to my response and then I did so likewise.  This went on for a couple messages before I realized something.  This person was just across town…either go over there or call her, I thought…so I called her.  And you know something, we were able to take care of what we needed much faster and more efficiently than writing impersonal messages back and forth.

(2) Two weeks ago I was getting ready to head back to Sioux Falls to attend the LifeLight Music Festival.  Connie was already over there.  As I pulled out of my driveway, Connie sent me a text message asking me a question.  I stopped the car and replied to her.  She sent me another one and I replied again.  After my second message I realized (once again) “why don’t I just call her?”…so I did.  We were able to take care of what we needed much faster and more efficiently than writing impersonal text messages back and forth.

(3) I recently heard a news report on TV that said that more and more teachers are discovering the negative impact that text messaging is having on written communication in class.  They are seeing papers using text message shorthand…because that’s how more and more teenagers are communicating…and it’s carrying over into the real world.  Are we in a catch-22 situation?  Do we need teach young people text message shorthand (like we actually need to teach this) so they can get by in the world?  Do we allow them to use this shorthand in class?  Does stopping this put teens at a disadvantage out in the world?  These seem like strange questions to ask, but I can’t help but to wonder.  What does this say about our future?

Now…I do believe that Facebook and text messaging and email and the like do serve a good purpose.  If I am in a class or a meeting, sending a quick text message to my wife is an easier way to communicate without disrupting anything.  But if all possible…I want to make the phone call.

What would Jesus do today?  Would he have a Blackberry or some kind of smartphone so he could communicate with teens today?  Would Jesus have an email account?  It seems to me that Jesus would value face-to-face; voice-to-voice communication.  There is just something more personal about it.

With all the advances in technology, relationship building through communication is taking a huge hit and spiraling downward.  But who am I to talk…I am sitting behind a computer writing this.  I just returned a Facebook message from a friend 4 blocks away and my smartphone is lying 6 inches from me just waiting to be used.  I guess I, too, have a long ways to go.


4 thoughts on “The downward spiral of communication

  1. 1) and 2): New tools require a while until we learn to use them effectively. At first, everyone jumps on the bandwagon and they become overused. After a little while, the limitations of the new tools become apparent, and usage fades. A little while after that, we reach a point of equilibrium where we learn how they are best used, and use them for that purpose. Is Facebook a good tool? Sure, in that it can keep you connected with people you might otherwise lose contact with. Likewise for e-mail, text messaging, etc. I have friends that I haven’t seen in 20 years, but we stay in contact through e-mail. But as you realized, text messaging and e-mail are not always the best tool for the job. Therefore, when you realized that a simple phone call was a better way to resolve whatever it was your friends were texting you for, you made the informed decision to change to the correct tool.

    Personally, I prefer e-mail to phone calls because e-mail allows me to arrange tasks by priority so that I can use my time more efficiently. A telephone call requires me to stop what I am doing to take the call; an e-mail allows me to shift gears when I reach a stopping point. This is a big deal when writing code or troubleshooting network gear, where it may take 30 minutes to an hour to “get into the flow”. In other cases, however, there is no substitute for a face to face conversation

    3) I don’t think this is a new phenomenon. Throughout history, people have decried the new ways of the younger generations. Language and culture change, and the elders gripe about the new language, dress code and styles of the youth. Language has changed since I was a teenager (I’m 37 now) and it will continue to change long after I’m gone. The shortcuts used by texting may seem inappropriate and incorrect to those of use schooled before the invention of text messaging, but in another 20 years, it may be the standard for formal communication. Who knows? To many of us, the language used in the King James Bible may seem strange and archaic; Geoffry Chaucer is almost incomprehensible. But at one time, that was “proper” English.

  2. Mike’s analysis is very good. I have very mixed feelings about Facebook. I do think it is a good way to sort of touch basis with younger people, ie my kids’ peers. But for communication, it isn’t great. The messages are either too short to be meaningful or if they are meaningful, then they shouldn’t be in public, I think. I got into texting with my youngest when she would be riding the team bus after games. In that situation, it was more private than trying to use a cell phone on the bus. Unfortunately, that seems to be the only way we hear from her most of the time. I think she uses it to get out of real discussions. My other kids don’t text at all. One won’t email either.

  3. I totally agree with Mike on points 1 and 2. Facebook is a good tool for keeping in touch with long lost friends, but we still have a ways to go to use it effectively and without impeding personal relationships. Also…there are many times, for me as well, when email is the most effective communication medium, but my point is that sometimes a phone call is more appropriate and effective, but yet we opt for email. I think our younger generation is choosing this option way too much and thus verbal communication is suffering with many youth.

    As for #3…I understand the change in language and culture with youth, but you don’t see that seeping into general, mainstream culture (i.e. the business world). Will text messaging shortcuts be acceptable when today’s youth are writing reports in the business world tomorrow?

    Communication mediums today are generally good, we just need to use them appropriately and effectively, but like Mike said, it is going to take time.

  4. I am on facebook because a few friends told me that it is a great way to keep in touch. To tell the truth, it doesn’t provide me with anything new. Email and cell phones handle everything I need to do as far as communicating. But that doesn’t mean I don’t use facebook….I do.

    As far as texting…on my best days my typing resembles texting shorthand.

    Sites like Facebook can be community builders and information stations. I do take advantange of belonging to several groups on Facebook in order to get the latest information on gatherings and such. So in that respect, facebook works for me.

    Besides Eric, how can I send you Southern Food, Pieces of Flair or Superpoke?


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