Communication Breakdown: The Text Message

If you’ve grown up in the era of cell phones, texting, and emoticons, the following scenario is likely very familiar:

(Set scene) Group of guys/girls hanging out.  One [guy/girl] is romantically interested in person of opposite sex, wants to text said person.  Asks group what to send in text message.  Group discusses word choice, smiley faces, and level of flirtatiousness in message.  After 5 minutes, it is agreed upon to send “Hi :)”   (End scene).

First off, don’t worry, this isn’t a post about dating in the 21st century, I’m way too out of date to do that.  For example, I first learned what emojis were this morning, and I still don’t really grasp the concept.  Rather the above scene will be used to illustrate some important points about how modern methods of communication affect us.  At some point in time, most of us have been a part of such a scene, either on the sending or receiving end.  Texting has become a fairly standard part of the progression of modern relationships.  I don’t find the trivial details of texting and relationships to be too interesting, but we can learn a lot when we dive into why we are so drawn towards texting.

So, why are we so inclined to send text messages?  To list a few of their merits, they are fast, easy, fairly inconspicous, and very convenient.  Specifically though, why do we choose to text in the situation described above, when you are interested in a guy/girl?  It’s certainly not faster or more convenient, as a quick call to say “would you like to go to dinner” would be twenty times faster and require less effort than navigating the intricacies of texting.

The reason we are so drawn to texting is because it eliminates risk.  When we call someone up, a direct connection is made with that person, which puts us at risk.  At risk for rejection, embarrassment, failure, or even success. Texting allows us to hide behind the glass walls of an LCD touch screen, providing a safe barrier between us and the other person.  You don’t have to have that gut-check moment right before asking the girl out and waiting for her to reply yes or no while you hold your breath for what seems like an eternity but is really 2 seconds; instead you just type, tap send, and wait.

I like to use dating as an easy example, but this holds true for any communication.  If you don’t want to talk to your parents about what’s really going on in your life, you can just text them that you’re ok.  If you don’t want to confront a friend about some problem, just hash it out over an hour long texting conversation.   In any relationship we can avoid risk by using indirect methods of communication (texting, email) instead of on the phone or face to face.

Pause here: I’ve probably run into a bit of dissention with you, the reader.  You validly want to point out that the way we communicate has constantly been changing over time.  First we grunted at each other, then we developed words, then wrote those words down on stone and pieces of bark, then talked through a nationwide system of wires.  Now we send signals up to a satellite, back down, and into a little black device.  What difference does it make, you say?  So now we text instead of calling or writing letters, it’s just part of the natural continuous progression.  What we say hasn’t changed, just the means we use to say it.

Which is a good argument. However, the key point here is that how we communicate fundamentally affects the nature of our relationship with that person.  Asking someone out, calling an old relative you haven’t talked to in years, or talking over an important problem with a friend face to face are all hard, and as we saw earlier, involve risk. But this risk, this leap of faith across the boundary between you and the Other that puts your neck on the line, is what creates the foundation of the relationship.  By opening up and exposing yourself and your vulnerabilities to the other, you inherently make the focus of the relationship about that person, not yourself.  And a true relationship is one in which you desire for the good of the other person as much or more as for yourself.

Contrast this with texting. When we text, we avoid risk and don’t truly extend ourselves to the other person. This causes us to focus the relationship inwardly on ourselves: what should I send to make her come to the party with me tonight? what can I say to make her not be mad at me any more? what do I need to say to get my parents off my back? You get the point.  The absence of risk on my part makes me unconsciously focus on what I can get out of the relationship instead of what can I give.

This is not meant to be a full fledged attack on modern communication. In some, if not most cases, texting likely does no harm. But as modern relationships and communication have undoubtedly changed, it’s something may have more impact than it seems. If you think about it a bit and look at how your own experiences have played out, you might find a bit of truth in it.

 

MDB

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Religion in the Digital Age

The subtitle of this blog reads, “searching for humanity in a technological world.”  At the core of this statement lies a belief that our lives have meaning and purpose. For better or worse, we live in an increasingly digital world, and it’s our goal to search for how we can retain the rich cultural and individual value of our lives within this modern context.

No matter what your personal beliefs are, it would be hard to deny that religion has and still does give meaning to the lives of billions of people on earth; that it has been a huge part of the historic, political, and cultural story of humanity; that most of us practice or have at least been affected in some way by religion.

prayer

It’s also hard to deny that how we live, work, play, and communicate have all been altered by modern technology.  (If you aren’t convinced of this, read some of our other articles!)

So what about religion–has the practice of religions changed?  Have they converted their teachings to PDF files?  Can you download an app that helps you remember the Muslim prayer times or to not eat fish on Fridays during Lent? (More on this to come in future posts).

pope tweets

A bigger question may be is this an issue at all, or am I splitting hairs?

As you can guess, I think it is something worth looking into. On one side of the spectrum, social media opens up huge outlets of communication for religions to tap into and spread their messages–i.e. the Pope’s Twitter account.  Social media allows religions to instantly access the home pages of millions of people; no more going from door to door with clip boards and pamphlets.

On the other hand, much of what is at the core of religions happens between two people face to face.  Showing true love and forgiveness for one another is hard to do in 140 characters.  And a heartfelt discussion about your prayer life isn’t likely to happen on a Facebook wall. You can’t get down and dirty serving the poor from behind a laptop screen.  In essence, I think a true experience of religion requires interaction in the physical world with the other person, whether that person is your Priest, Rabbi, a homeless woman, your spouse or friend.

jewish altar

This post is NOT meant to give answers, but just to get you thinking about these ideas that we’ll be diving into in our series on religion.  I don’t pretend to have the answers, but hopefully we’ll be able to discover some insights along the way.  Stay tuned!

MDB

Images from:

jspace.com, muslimvoices.org, and Pope Francis’ Twitter page

On Blind Acceptance

Picture this:  You meet an old friend to catch up over coffee.  The two of you have a good friendship and keep up with each other’s work and family life.  Your friend works for a pharmaceutical company, and she excitedly tells you (off the record) about a new pill under development.  The pill enhances all aspects of the human brain, she claims.  It makes you smarter, faster, more efficient, and harder working.  They haven’t released it yet, but she happens to have some samples and wants to share with you.

What’s your next move?  Of course you feel thrilled about its effects–who wouldn’t want to benefit from an immediate boost in mental ability.  Just think of the potentials: success in the workplace, great achievements, higher income, positions of power…

So do you take it?  It may be tempting.  Or do you first ask the next logical question–what are the side effects?  Your friend tells you that they don’t know yet, it’s still too early on in the trial process to determine.

Will you take the mystery pill anyways, thinking that the benefit outweighs the risks? Or do you approach it cautiously, waiting until they complete the study and analyze the long term effects?  Being a cautious, savvy consumer, you decide that taking an unknown pill is not worth the risks, and you tell your friend to let you know how the trials turn out first.

Let’s twist the scenario a little.  Instead of going through the standard rigorous safety trials, the pharmaceutical company releases the pill as an over-the-counter supplement.  They produce millions of bottles, touting this pill as the solution to all our problems.  The bottles fly off the shelves!  Within a few months, almost every American has started using it, enjoying the many benefits.  Within a year or two it has been adopted as a standard part of our culture, and yet no safety study was conducted– no one has put in the time or money to look at its effects.

In the first story, we took a cautious approach.   A rigorous system was in place to make sure the product was safe before being released to consumers.  In the latter scenario, there was no such system.  We blindly began consuming something that we knew very little about, with complete disregard for its effects on our health and society.

The latter scenario describes how we have embraced technology in the 21st century.  Technology has revolutionized how we communicate, how we work, how we learn; very few aspects of our lives have been unaffected by it.  The purpose of this blog is not to unilaterally condemn modern technology.  It would be short-sighted to ignore the many benefits of it, the many lives that have been improved or even saved by it.  The purpose of this blog is to perform the function that safety trials provide in medicine.  We must look critically at how technology affects us.  What are its side effects?  How are our lives being changed, both positively and negatively, by these products that we are consuming?  That is our purpose here, to turn a critical eye on the 21st century technological advances that have become so prevalent in our lives.