April 27, 2012

How We Use Text Messages to Escape Real Communication.

“We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.”

~ Sherry Turkle

Not long after I won the Angel Conference, I got a text message from a successful local businessman who had agreed to become our CEO. I still believe he had a lot to do with my win of the conference. He resigned over a text message, not even using the 160 characters allotted. Essentially, it wasn’t going to work for him at that time.

I was devastated. In that surreal space, I had to go back and re-read the message. I felt it physically, a hearty dose of adrenaline mixed with old, deep fears of worthlessness and abandonment. Although this break up was in the business realm, we all know at least one person who has who had their heart broken over a text message.

Using technology to escape the difficult communications of our lives simply adds insult to injury. Increasingly, we resort to text and email messages for bad news. In part, we do this because text and email messages give us the illusion of control. It is often easier to present the self we wish to portray via text.

In actuality, what we communicate is that we are unwilling to give our time or attention to the complex and messy conversation that human relationships deserve.

Just this past week, I got an email cancellation from a very well known author who I had arranged a radio interview with more than a month prior. That message, too, was brief, with little explanation. It felt like a cursory, rather than something authentic because it arrived in the form of a five word message.

There exists an erroneous belief that technology can clean up loose ends, unexplained departures, or an unwillingness to be accountable. The reverse is also true; technology can easily and almost invisibly turn one’s emotional life into an empty shell. The irony is that the more technology is relied upon as a substitute for real conversations, the more real relationships are shortchanged. The more this happens, the more opportunities for misunderstanding occur.

Face to face conversations require a certain degree of attention not allotted by a text message. Human conversation is how we perceive from another’s point of view and what’s more, it is the way one initially learns to converse with oneself. Conversation is essential to human interaction, and is how one learns to read the nuances of others.

In Sherry Turkle’s book Our Flight from Conversation, poignant stories of teens’ desire for conversations, dating advice from artificial intelligence and an excitement to witness computer-based psychiatry are shared. Turkle believes these stories demonstrate, “how much we have confused conversation with connection and collectively seem to have embraced a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day. Have we lost confidence that we will be there for one another?”

Having the courage and compassion to leave someone with his or her dignity intact is worth every pound of effort needed to do it. Technology was designed to make life easier to manage, not easier to avoid. Use it to set up a place and time to meet someone for a goodbye. Don’t be fooled that a goodbye is sent with a text.


Editor: Brianna Bemel

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