Monday, February 22, 2010


An excerpt from a friend's Facebook comment: "... and doesn't it suck that we just write eachother[sic]... I freaking miss phone calls and some old fashioned Café experiences."

As another example, I've seen things like the following on dating sites: "Don't flirt/wink/smile at me. If you don't write me an e-mail/message, I won't respond to you."

Another online dating profile says something like this: "If you are interested, send me a wink/flirt/smile. If I reciprocate, it means that I am interested. Then we can message each other."

Imagine after a first date: "I am so going to dump this guy. He didn't even bother to call me after our date; he just sent me a text to thank me for going out with him."

Or perhaps a husband complains about his wife: "My wife leaves little notes all over the house about things she wants me to do. I wish she would just talk to me instead of putting these notes between us."

It seems that people have strong opinions about the ways we should communicate and which methods of communication are better than others. But I submit that it is not methods of communication which are good or bad, just that people have preferences for modalities of communication that affect the way they communicate with others.

After all, every type of communication has different characteristics. On the phone we can catch people's voice inflections, while face-to-face communication allows us to read the person's lips and body language as well. Some people like to craft well-thought-out letters, while e-mail or instant messaging allows us to communicate more frequently than snail mail. In fact instant messaging is somewhere between synchronous phone and asynchronous e-mail communication. Each "utterance" is crafted as a unit and sent after composition, though both people can be creating their messages at the same time. My guess is that people choose a preferred mode of communication based on its desirable characteristics, but don't often realize that others have preferred modes of communication as well.

I think of it as similar to the five love languages as taught in Chapman's book. Chapman's thesis is that each person has a preferred way of expressing and receiving love, and if others give or expect love in other ways the person may not interpret that as loving. But if we learn to understand each other's love languages, we can both give and receive love in ways that are more meaningful to people we care about. In a similar way, just because others do not have the same preferred method of communication does not make them bad communicators or mean that they are being disrespectful.

This is complicated by the fact that not all methods of communication are reasonably available in all situations. If I am sitting in a meeting and suddenly remember something I want to tell a member of my family, of course I will discreetly send a text message instead of calling attention to myself by excusing myself from the meeting and making a call. I can't hop on an airplane if I want to have a face-to-face communication with a friend on another continent; sometimes a phone call or even an e-mail will have to do, depending on the time difference. But this doesn't mean that I don't care.

How about we cut each other a break?


Deanna said...

I dated a boy for five years and didn't give him enough credit because we did things totally opposite. It's not until years after our relationship ended that I look back and realize that was his way of saying he loved me...too bad it wasn't mine and we parted ways. NEXT...

Anonymous said...

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Very nice thoughts and opinions :)
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