That is an image that Pixar’s “Wall-e” paints for us of the future.
Sadly, most that saw this didn’t even catch the danger that we face of becoming that society and continued to ignore the many things that we do daily that lead us towards this.
To avoid throwing flawed statistics at you, I will simply make this statement: the largest part of our communication is non-verbal.
Think about when you have a conversation with someone in person. You hear what they’re saying (their words), but how you receive them is based on how they say the words (their tone), how they act while saying them (their body language), and also the faces they make (facial expressions). Statistics aside, there are 4 main factors in conversation (some would say three but I think there is a distinction between facial expressions and body language), and when we speak through text (as I, ironically am conveying this message) we are missing out on three of them.
I can emphasize certain words, but italicizing, bolding,
striking, CAPITALIZING, and other font variations can only do so much.
It is also a lot simpler to put on a façade through text than it is to do so in a face-to-face conversation.
Think about how often you have been misunderstood through a text message compared to saying what seems like a similar statement (in your mind) out loud.
Before I continue, hear me that I am not saying “all technology is bad, burn the internets down and go back to being completely secluded from anything that might have some cultured factor in it!” Instead, I am saying, don’t accept everything without inspection. Don’t drink the kool-aid (unless it really is kool-aid and nothing else).
Shane Hipps, the Lead Pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona put out a book in 2009 called “Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith.” Shane explains that,
Cell phones often put artificial barriers between us and our loved ones. They separate us…There are two opposing forces at work in us: collision and division. Wireless technology is complex, contradictory, and deserves to be evaluated carefully.
The near become far, and the far are brought near.
Notice, he has not said that we should refrain fully from ever using any electronic product, but rather, that we should evaluate these complex, seemingly contradictory means carefully. He continues,
This is the paradox of the electronic age. In this sense it retrieves and combines the characteristics of two previous media eras. If oral culture is tribal and literate culture is individual, the electronic age is essentially a tribe of individuals. This is a confused state of being in which we are thrown together from far-off places. We desire connection and community in our increasingly nomadic existence–yet we wander around the globe, glancing off other digital nomads without ever knowing or being known.
Before continuing with the last section of this book that I feel really drives the point home (with a story), I would like to point out one of the deepest issues with this all.
My friend Josh and I had a conversation the other night about texting and what it does to conversation, and he felt somehow that communication issues weren’t really happening and they were just adapting well. Adapting well is relative, as adapting well (as we soon saw when we walked in Walmart) was two junior high or high school age kids sitting on a bench next to each other with their heads down texting while their friend walked around with music playing from his phone and none of them even looked at each other.
It used to be that people would write on their Facebook or (back in the day) Myspace profiles something like “if you want to know more, just ask.” An invitation saying, this is not all of who I am, if you’d like to get to know me more, this isn’t the place. But maybe this is changing. Maybe we are getting so engulfed in this culture (or the younger generations are) that their Facebook profiles really do contain the depth of who they are. That’s really sad to me. Not only are we putting technology above people, but we are letting technology dictate and limit who we are.
To hand things back over to Shane,
It is a condition we create with the smallest decisions. But it is just as easily undone. I was sitting with a different friend at lunch one day. His cell phone rang. I stopped talking and said, “You can get that, if you need to.” Without blinking or checking the phone he said, “You took the time and effort to get together with me. Whoever is calling didn’t. Now, what were you saying?” All he did was ignore his phone long enough to be present where his body was. Not only did I feel honored, but it also made me appreciate the gift of being there. Prioritizing those who are physically present can have a transforming effect on us when so many are digitally absent.
Reading that story made my eyes tear up for three reasons.
- I have been the person that would answer the phone or text and, through that, reduce the person that I was with’s felt value or at least say that I don’t appreciate the time that they made to physically be with me.
- I have been the person who has been with someone and heard a one-sided conversation and felt left out or has sat there just watching someone stare at their phone and text back over and over. It really does hurt.
- I have also had someone turn their phone off, leave it in a car, put it on silent, or continually ignore it…and that feels really good.
When it comes down to it, there is nothing that we are doing better through the way that communication is evolving except for being more efficient. We are reducing the communicated value of people and we are allowing for many more miscommunications.
To just give some examples of what I think might be more appropriate uses of texting:
- Hey can you talk now? If not, when are you free?
- Wanna do something tonight? Give me a call at ___ time and we’ll figure it out!
- Let’s grab coffee soon. When works for you?
- Give me a call when you can, I really need to talk.
- What’s your schedule like tonight?
This is clearly not all-inclusive and it’s not my aim or heart to be legalistic. This is simply me trying to figure out, how to do something right that I’ve been doing wrong for years.
In my opinion, text communication should, at most, be a catalyst. This catalyst should lead to meeting in person or to a phone call that then leads to being in person (if distance is not an issue).
Obviously, when distance is an issue, Skype fills the face-to-face void better than a phone call or message.
And even more obviously, sometimes, that is the only option. Honestly, I have strongly considered doing the hipster thing and deleting my facebook lately (especially since it’s finals week) but I have thought of my connections to friends in Uganda that I only am able to speak to through messages, especially because of the time difference. Like I said, I am not trying to be legalistic here.
My main message, if I don’t convey anything else, is that it is important that we evaluate what we are doing and look at scripture and see what our actions convey and if that fits with the example that Christ has set for us.
I want to communicate to every person that I interact with that they were made in the image of God and because of that, they are valuable; I don’t want a small electronic device to stand in the way of that.
If you would like to talk further on this, please…contact me so we can meet in person or at the least Skype.
Grace and Peace,