Communication is supposed to be helped by technology, right? We’re available 24/7 now, through cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. We may be communicating, but are we relating? Is a Facebook friend really a friend? Is the first time you tell the person you’re dating that you love them in a text? I know couples who have fights because one wasn’t effusive enough about the other on Facebook.
What about talking?! You talk; I listen; I talk; you listen. And a whole conversation happens, instead of a monologue with no visual or vocal clues—but lots of room for misunderstanding! As any actor or director will tell you, there are many ways to read the same line. The more remote the form of communication, the more likely it is that the words will be misinterpreted or that fantasy will intrude.
For example, if you want to do online dating, I suggest you communicate online just long enough to comfortably get the person’s phone number and talk on the phone just long enough to comfortably set up a meeting in a public space, and then the dating begins. This strategy of quickly moving from remote communication to in-person relating avoids too much build-up of fantasy, wherein you believe you’ve found your true love without having yet met him or her!
The way someone seems in written communication or even over the phone can be quite different than how they actually relate in person on a day-to-day basis. Some people are terse communicators in writing, but warm in person. Some people are short over the phone, but lovely in person. I have a wonderful doctor—smart, caring, funny, warm—but you would never know it from his phone presence. I don’t think he’s ever said “Goodbye” before hanging up in twenty years. And I have a good friend who’s similar on phone calls, but she’s great to talk with in person. Others are wonderfully warm communicators with the remoteness of texts and emails, but are unable to relate well in person.
This brings to mind Ranier Maria Rilke (1875-1926), who wrote the following poem:
How should I keep my soul
from touching yours? How should I
lift it beyond you toward other things?
Ah, I would gladly shelter it
in darkness with some lost thing,
on some remote unsounding place
that doesn’t tremble, when your depths stir.
Yet everything that touches you or me
takes us together like a bow’s stroke
that from two strings draws one voice.
Across what instrument are we stretched?
And what player holds us in his hand?
O sweet song.
Rilke wrote gorgeous poems, but was a mostly absent and indifferent husband and father. There are understandable reasons in Rilke’s background that marriage and parenthood felt suffocating to him. (Read about his life here.) He could write about love, but could not relate person-to-person. It seems that the company of others felt burdensome to him, and that’s the problem! Writing to was “safer” than being with. Poor Rilke could’ve benefited from some good therapy!
The texts, instant messages, and emails we send are much less poetic, but the point remains: When you have a choice, do you favor remote communication or in-person relating?
Do you want to have beautiful words written to and about you for your friends to see through texts, posts, and email, or would you rather have a warm, lovely conversation with someone who’s fully present? Does it have to be an either-or choice between communications technology and relating? What do you think? Feel free to leave comments.
And if you know someone who’s more comfortable with remote communication than with relating, let them know that good treatment can help them enjoy and appreciate the satisfactions of relating!