How well are we communicating when we’re not talking?

By Fran Sherman, LCSW

Texting, Facebook, e-mails, emoticons. What’s going on? One thing’s for sure: We’re not using our voices to speak.

My kids, my friends’ kids, kids I see in my practice and even adults have forgotten how to speak on the phone. It amazes me how quickly my 18-year-old son can send a text message. When I get my monthly phone bill, he and my 22-year-old daughter both have logged 5,000 text messages but used hardly any talk time. I think the only reason my son calls me from college is because of my incessant “reminders.”

In today’s dating world, texting for a date (“Hey, do you want to get together?”) is preferred over calling. Why? A phone can elicit an immediate answer that you may not want to hear, but a text-message response can be thought through before you hit “send” . . . . or you can just ignore it and not respond at all.

On the phone, you have to be spontaneous and generally more genuine, while texting allows you to put up layers of protection.

When you text, you can be less open and honest. “The date” doesn’t hear the intonation in your voice or your real feelings — pleasure, happiness, sadness or anger.

It seems a really impersonal way to begin a relationship. Two people don’t have the opportunity to get to know each other before going out because they don’t speak. They just text. When you become exclusive in a relationship, then you start talking on the phone and you feel more comfortable, safe and secure.

This is not to disparage the use of Facebook, texting and other social media. I use them, and they’re wonderful tools.

As technology marches on, we someday might simply connect to the Internet through our fingertips. Regardless, we first need to get back to what makes us human. We need to remember how to speak to each other.

  • Use texting and Facebook to let somebody know that you’d like to speak with them.
  • Let friends and family know that you prefer to speak, so you can hear each other’s emotions and feelings.
  • Use your voice so things don’t get lost in translation from text shorthand and smiley faces. People aren’t always sure what you mean. You might think “not available” means a breakup when it really means someone’s in a meeting for the next two hours. This could lead to anger or a broken heart.

How do we come back from the Age of the Text?

First, think before setting your thumbs to the keyboard. What will the other person think when he or she gets this text? Could it be misunderstood? Will one more text keep us from knowing what we each want to say?

And second, ask yourself if there’s a greater upside to a conversation on the phone. Wouldn’t each of us really know what’s on each other’s minds and in our hearts? And isn’t that what communication should be all about?

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