On my drive home from church this morning I was thinking about how much has changed in the last ten years in the way we communicate with each other. Now I'm not old, but the technological developments over the last decade are pretty impressive. Ten years ago the way we communicated with our friends and family, especially those living at a distance, was more limited. If I wanted to communicate with a friend who was living a long way from me I basically had 4 options, I could:
- Write a letter
- Write an email
- Chat on AIM or MSN Messenger
- Cell phone (waiting until after 9 when the free nights and weekends started) or home phone where similar long distance rates affected call times
From this list of four, the third was the most casual and easily used. Writing an email was pretty casual too, although getting email was still cool then. The phone was more personal and also signified a closer friendship. Receiving a letter was cool, but I can't say that it happened much with my friends. I did get letters from my grandparents and it was always fun to open the letter and see what they had to say.
Today, however, the number of ways we have to communicate with each other has exploded thanks to technology and there is an even greater perceived set of social standards for the appropriateness of each method. Today we can:
- Write a letter
- Write an email
- IM via AIM or MSN Messenger (although I don't know anyone who still does)
- IM via Facebook
- Send text messages
- Send tweets
- Use instant messaging apps like BlackBerry Messenger or other free apps
- Use Skype or FaceTime to video chat from our computers or our cell phones
- Send Facebook messages (kind of like email)
- Send Facebook video messages (kind of like Skype only no interaction)
- Use our cell phones to make phone calls and if you still have a landline you could use that too.
The list could go on and on as you started including all of the various smaller social media sties as well as the various apps that are available for our phones today.
There are "rule for engagement" with all of these different forms of communication. Some people you would send an instant message, some people you'd text message, others it may just be a Facebook message or tweet.
According to some people the rules become more complicated when the person you're communicating with is someone you like and would like to get to know better a.k.a. a potential date. Now you have to decide from all of your options: "Do I call them?" or "Maybe I should just send them a text." or "I think a cute Facebook message is a good choice." Then you have to worry about timing. Was it too soon that it appeared to be overeager or too late that it seemed to be disinterested? They can all make us nervous and cause us to avoid communication all together.
Ultimately, it is very easy to worry too much about our self-imposed rules for communication. While each of these tools is a great enhancement for our ability to communicate, there is really nothing better than being face to face with someone and experiencing the richness of full body communication that comes through tone, gestures, expression, posture, and body language in addition to the spoken word. It seems to be something that we often avoid in favor of our more impersonal tools for communicating. I think we'd be surprised at how much we'd learn if we spent more time really communicating with each other!