On the Art of Communication: Generation Gap or Just Plain Rudeness?

Nick Belton, a young “guru” on the digital age, offered a recent rant about excess text messages, especially ones that say things like “thank you.” Belton hates wasting even one extra minute on any communication medium that does not serve his immediate purpose. He finds phone calls and voice mail particularly offensive, saying:

My father learned this lesson last year after leaving me a dozen voice mail messages, none of which I listened to. Exasperated, he called my sister to complain that I never returned his calls. “Why are you leaving him voice mails?” my sister asked. “No one listens to voice mail anymore. Just text him.”

No one listens to voice mail? Really? Hmmm.  Later in the column, this young man indicates he communicates with his mother by Twitter.

OK, lets talk about twitter:  140 characters per tweet.  I have a twitter account–should you wish to become one my many followers (note: sarcasm present) feel free. Twitter name, the unoriginal: christythomas.

Last fall, I participated in an “in-depth” conversation about a critical issue using a tweetchat medium–140 character limit.

The sentence above contains precisely 140 characters.  It took me ten minutes to edit it to that exact length, an interesting waste of time.

The “in-depth conversation” offered surface cliches and unsupported statements, no nuance or explanation. It was difficult to follow as people had to respond to previous statements with the @symbol to accurately reference tweets several lines and thought-leaps away.

More, because, of course, they found their own thoughts so profound, they also needed to hashtag (#) them to other places so their followers would not miss a word.

To say I found this tweetchat unsatisfactory would be an understatement.

Now, the oh-so-put-upon Belton’s quote above about his father’s many phone calls contains 303 characters.  Twice the space offered to criticize his dad as he spends communicating with his mother.

This is progress?

I am no Luddite and enjoy the electronic world.  I was one of the first users of personal computers, expensive as they were.

My typing has always been both fast and riddled with mistakes. To quickly fix errors in my documents without the laborious process of painting with liquid paper and erasing carbon copies seemed utterly miraculous to me.

I also think email and texting can be better ways to communicate than the telephone.  The act of writing our thoughts means we can rewrite as necessary. We can also reply when most convenient. No need to jump when the phone rings and be at the mercy of the schedule of others.

All helps bring more gracious and thoughtful discourse.

Email, at its best, serves as a way to embrace again the art of letter writing.  Through emails, we may keep a journal of our lives and loves, just as handwritten letters did for generations.

After my mother died in 2010, I discovered a treasure trove of copies of letters she had written to her family over a period of 60 years.  I saw riches and nuances I would have never known without them. She poured out her soul in the written word.  Conversations long-forgotten suddenly came alive again.

What would the world’s great literature and religion be without those who took time to write their thoughts?  How much we owe both to them and to the labors of those whose lives were dedicated to carefully and accurately make copies of such things!

Real communication takes time, energy, thoughtfulness and willingness to enter into the world of another.  It is also fraught with problems, open to misinterpretation, and makes the writer vulnerable to attack.

Mostly, it builds bridges when we are willing to take the time to listen. However, if even a “thank you” text is a source of irritation, I do wonder where we are headed next.

PS: FYI:  There are 3804 characters in this column!

6 thoughts on “On the Art of Communication: Generation Gap or Just Plain Rudeness?

  1. +1 CT!

    … seriously, I have a twitter account, I am FB-literate, I can text and I use email extensively and digital media as part of my practice fairly extensively. I think digital tech is a great thing when it is a tool to foster communications and deepen relationships. It is, however, often confused for a relationship itself.

    Digital tech can FEEL so real sometimes, yet there is such a visceral disconnect. You are not necessarily reaching a real person. There is metal, glass, silicon and electrical current between you and a _digital _ _image_ of that certain someone… if that certain someone even exists. The Notre Dame football player is simply the most famous victim of a digital ghost.

    The joy of the digital connection is in what widely scattered individuals can do ‘together’ – I am part of a group of guys that love to watch the Texas Rangers play baseball. One of the cool things we can do from the privacy of our own homes is ‘talk’ with each other by group text as the game goes on. We can argue among the 5 or 6 of us, whether we are at home, in a hotel room on a business trip or at the game. But the key is, I KNOW them, I have spent time with them, they are real, and there is a real relationship.

    The ‘reality’ of relationships is/will be a key issues for my son’s generation, because face to face communication, talking and L-I-S-T-E-N-I-N-G are the core of successful relationships… and texting, email and digital communication that I listen to on my terms (corollary:the DVRing of TV -eliminating the stuff I don’t want to deal with) when I feel like it does little to enhance those skills.


    1. I love the way you are using digital media with your friends for fun and connection. This is the great power of it. It is indeed the loss of the power of active, engaged listening that will end up hurting all of us, especially the generation of our children and grandchildren.


  2. I am technologically illiterate, inept in the understanding of all those things like Twitter, Facebook, texting, etc. Due to my life’s circumstances, I never got the chance to learn all these things, and am not able to catch up.

    Recently, I had a fender-bender in my car, and of course, no iphone (or whatever they’re called) to take pictures of the accident with. The person I bumped into had one and snapped away pictures of the evidence, while I just had to stand there.

    Could I ever learn to use one of those phones even if I could afford one? Score one for being at a disadvantage in this modern age. But I have a good friend who introduced me to the rudimentary workings of email, and it’s true—I grow more deeply involved with life, with her, because of it. I like to write. Emailing her gives me much of my inspiration. Seeing her in person, gives me even more!


  3. Nice piece. I understand from where Bilton comes from. When I worked and had I don’t know how many emails, fewer would have been better. But I did have a rule of thumb – when I saw people going back and forth too many times, I suggested a face-to-face meeting!

    But I do think thank you’s are important, and they also serve to let me know that my message has been received and read.

    As for voicemail, while we use it, I do find it more irritating than email or text. Quicker to scan and follow-up on.

    But twitter to communicate with my kids – no way. We message for routine stuff, talk a few times a week on the phone or Skype.


  4. Thanks, John. I stopped preaching just lectionary a while ago because of the huge gaps in it and now work on giving a fuller picture of the story, knowing many of the details will never be understood by my congregation. We are indeed less literate about the Bible than ever.

    As for Wesley’s sermons–they are so powerful and almost completely lost.


  5. Well said! Sadly, much of the social media reflects the shallowness of thought these days. We don’t seem to have (or take) the time to read or think about things beyond the television sound bite or the Facebook posting. Our adult Sunday school class is reading through the Bible this year and I was surprised by the number of faithful churchgoers who were surprised that Exodus read differently than the story portrayed in The 10 Commandments movie and the History Channel “Bible” special. Although the Lectionary exposes the faithful to quite a bit of scripture over 3 years, it is in little pieces that often fail to convey the full context. And frequently, even those who preach the Lectionary don’t read all the scripture in worship. Without serious, intentional effort we wind up with a church full of the faithful who have little knowledge of scripture. And, sadly, a significant number those who know scripture are unaware of anything that happened in the church between the end of Acts and Luther / Wesley. And, although we claim Wesley’s sermons as doctrine, how many laity have read any of them?


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