Friday, January 16, 2009

New Media Are Killing Communications

Catherine Blyth:

For all of the amazing, proliferating ways that we have to be in touch, face-to-face conversation is being pushed to the margins of our lives. And it has for thousands of years been the core of human interaction, and it's very good at what it's designed to do.

There's a whole lot to be said about the pleasures of a wired-up world, but there is a lot of difference between being in touch and having an interaction. If anything, I think that with too much communicating via machines, people end up hiding behind screens.

Amen. I'm struck by how often, when I suggest a person give someone a call, I learn later that he or she has chosen to send an e-mail instead. I'm also amazed at the number of two-way correspondences that end up being conducted in front of a peanut gallery thanks to the insidious "reply all" option. Relationships can go downhill fast that way, especially when people give in to the impulse to say exactly what's on their minds.

Like all newspaper people, my mother has a keen way with words. She long ago learned the knack of flaming someone in a letter or memo and then putting it in drawer while she calmed down. By and large, they stayed there. With e-mail, which makes instant communication so easy, it's easy to give in to one's worst instincts.

It's even worse in faith communities, when angry e-mailers sometimes act as though they have the warrant of heaven. For a couple of years I've been threatening to teach a class at St. John's entitled, "E-mail is Satan," not because any medium is inherently evil -- God knows, I send a lot of e-mails -- but because it can encourage anti-incarnational, anti-community impulses. Look at it this way: When you e-mail, you're trying to be in control. When you phone or meet, you're opening a dialog and relationship to possibilities you can't anticipate. Which option sounds more Godly?

No comments: