What do I mean by Techno-communication? For the purposes of this discussion, I am referring to texting, instant messaging, face book postings, e-mail, and twitter. These are all amazing ways for friends and families to communicate quickly, businesses to run efficiently and people to find answers instantly. We get immediate responses, immediate gratification and immediate knowledge. I personally can’t imagine life without cell phones and the internet. These options have arguably made the world closer and more disconnected at the same time.
As is the case with most things in life, these great advances in technology come at a price. The most abhorrent of these is what I refer to as the depersonalization of humanity. The written word by nature is more detached from the receiver than the spoken one. And while one can point to letters as a powerful and persuasive form for eliciting emotion from the person receiving them, texting, emailing and instant messaging lack the detail, sentiment, and thoughtfulness of letter writing. The technological forms of communication invariably rob both the sender and the receiver of human contact allowing greater detachment from what has been written. Add to that brevity and you have created a formula for MIScommunication.
As a society, we are already feeling the impact of a more impersonal world. How do you feel about automated recordings when you call your branch bank, credit card company, or family physician? How happy are you when a person answers the phone? There are people who have changed business affiliations based on personalization of service. Hearing another live person on the other end of the conversation leaves people feeling important and valued.
Clearly, human communication is a very complex process. We react not only to what is said, but how it is said (How many times did you hear that from your mother or girlfriend?) Nuance,
cadence, volume, and tone play integral roles in how messages are expressed and received. A pleasant phone conversation can make one’s day. Have you ever heard that you are supposed to smile while answering the phone? Smiling actually changes how you sound and the receiver can hear it even if he can’t see you.
In everyday discourse body language is critical. An eye roll conveys a great deal. It’s far easier to fake emotions on the phone when one cannot see you as opposed to face to face contact where most every movement and reaction is absorbed by the other person.
Now, let’s take that a step further by removing all auditory clues as well as visual ones. Instead of the sender conveying his message with all the emotion intended, it is up to the receiver to put that emotion back in and interpret it. This makes for a rather one-sided conversation.
It is this removal of the physicality of the other person that allows us to text, instant message, e-mail, post, and tweet things that we would never verbalize face to face. While I am certain that there is a case to be made for the usefulness of such separation in that it allows for greater bravado where it might not otherwise exist, it feels a bit cowardly? Is this really the way we want to teach our children to deal with confrontation and uncomfortable events – hide behind the skirts of a technical devise?
These things are important to keep in mind. Children and teenagers have a false sense of security and power when texting their friends, their enemies, or their frenemies as the case may be. And let’s face it, teenagers are not known for good impulse control. Sometimes a little fear is a good thing.
I am certain you can name many adults who have flown off the handle in an e-mail only to deeply regret it later. I know of one individual who would still have his job if he had not hit the send button in a fit of rage. We all benefit from the time to think things through or at least the intimidation factor of having to look at this person or speak our thoughts in front of the judgment of others. For teenagers this is essential. The instant gratification of techno-
communication does not afford this gift, nor does it give us the blessing of considering possible outcomes or others’ feelings.