All Communication Methods are Not Equal


More and more, people use electronic methods, such as text or email, as their main source of communication. Especially at younger ages, the primary communication method is electronic. This is not just a simple preference. Different communication methods impact not just the way a message is communicated but the actual message itself.

In the 1960s, communication theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” McLuhan meant that how something is communicated is actually a part of what is being communicated. He argues that it is impossible to change the method of communication without changing the content of what is communicated.

If you don’t believe or understand him, consider the phrase “I love you.” The meaningfulness of this gesture differs depending on if it’s done in a text, on the phone, in person, or – even better – in person with flowers. Let’s use another example: a hug. With a hug, no words are actually used, but something is still being communicated. Furthermore, it is impossible to convey exactly what this hug communicates through a text message.

Brothers, this means that it really matters how you ask a girl out! If you ask her out over a text, you are clearly communicating something that, I would argue, you don’t want to communicate. You communicate to her that she’s not important enough for a phone call, or you could communicate that you don’t have the courage to make the call. Either way, a phone call is better – and face-to-face communication is best.

Tim Challies writes, “The truth is that text rarely, if ever, can equal the richness of a face-to-face conversation. It’s static, disembodied. It does not convey hand gestures, verbal tone, inflection, or facial expressions, things we are taught from birth to encode and decode.”

Shane Hipps, in his book “Flickering Pixels”, illustrates this concept with an interesting experiment. At his corporate marketing job for the car company Porsche, he decides to give up email for two weeks. At first, he admits that he “spent a lot of time prowling the hallways, and it was much less efficient than email.” However, he says, “…as deadlines approached, people from other departments came to find me to deliver projects in person. This had never happened before…I also discovered that they worked on my projects before they worked on the email requests of my colleagues, even those with tighter deadlines.” This interesting experiment teaches us that there is value in face-to-face communication, and electronic communication, though deemed efficient, may not be that efficient after all.

If our relationships are not based on face-to-face communication, we may find that they lack the intimacy and connection to stay strong. Tim Challies learned this after spending several years engaging with a common interest group online. In the group, Challies says he shared much of his life, including his faith and family life. However, one day the website shut down. He described the interesting response he had: “What was remarkable to me was how little I cared. The relationships that I had thought were so deep were shown to be very shallow. With the ethereal tie of the website gone – the thing that had tied us together – we all just went our own ways with very little sense of loss. It turned out that we were not much of a community at all, but simply a group of individuals networked together for a time.”

One important lesson that we can learn from this is that there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. We can, and should, use texting and emailing to organize and simplify our lives; they can be very practical and useful tools. However, we should never use them as a replacement for the communication that we need to sustain our relationships.

–Ryan Satrom

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