Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Communicating: Sunday musings…10/2/2022

Yesterday I read about the relatively new popularity of using something called “voice texting”. In short, you record your part of a text thread and send a verbal message. The WSJ article went on to describe how to do these, to whom to send them, and how to receive them. My friend Lee has been doing this for several years, much to the chagrin of most of the people who are on the receiving end of his missives. Me? I think it’s a very “Lee thing” to do; it fits his image as an iconoclast, or even a little bit of a rebel. I don’t mind getting “voice texts” from Lee, but frankly I really wouldn’t be all that enthusiastic if this became a more widespread “thing”.

A small poll done by the WSJ shows that I am firmly in the majority on this one.

Thus far today I have communicated with a couple dozen folks and it’s only lunch time. Awake to a string of texts from my “play group” buddies. Answer a few emails and look at pictures from the sources of my weekend’s double FOMO, our annual major professional conference and a once in a lifetime celebration of a life saved at my Alma Mater. WhatsApp spoke up with more news from the Chicago conference, and messages trickled in on both Twitter and Facebook. I chatted with Beth over coffee and a couple of newspapers. All of this culminated in old school phone calls–real live, talking on a phone to a live person phone calls–with my Mom and closest friend from college. The only thing missing was opening a letter or getting a telegram.

Have you seen that commercial, I think it was a Heineken commercial, where people with diametrically different points of view were put together for one-on-one discussions. You know, the one with the bigot talking with the immigrant from Africa, and the arch conservative going over local social policies with the liberal activist. In front of their keyboards and in pre-conversation interviews they were openly disdainful of the people with whom they would soon be chatting. Not the opinions or viewpoints of those people mind you, but the people themselves.

It makes you think. How much of our social discord is driven by mode of communication?

One of my tiny morning rituals is to glance at the “Memories” that come up each day on Facebook. Turns out I’ve written about this general topic more than once. Indeed, the first time may have been more than 10 years ago. There are a couple of new modes of communication around now, WhatsApp and SnapChat for example, but spending a few moments with my earlier posts leads me to conclude that the both the macro and the micro issues remain the same.

Nothing trumps “in person”, or as the more modern lingo would have it, IRL or “in real life”. Everything that makes us human has ultimately evolved from how we communicate in person. For one thing, it’s impossible to dehumanize a human who is standing right there in front of you. It’s just kinda hard to dismiss the existence of a person when they are sharing the air you are breathing. When you are engaged IRL everything you do is part of the communication. The words you choose. Your inflection and tone. How fast or how slowly you speak. What your face is doing and how the rest of your body is moving as you speak. And while you listen. You are words and all of the emojis in the world, right there in your whole self as you stand or sit across from another.

Nothing compares with this.

All of the Zoom and Zoom-like platforms are really as flat as the screens on which they appear. Oh sure, a video chat is much better than anything other than IRL. Give me FaceTime with my Mom over even a phone call, for sure. But still how much we get across is still measurably less. An old school phone call gives us tone that we cannot really convey via text, PM, Snap or WhatsApp. I confess that I am at a loss as to whether “voice text” is closer to Ma Bell or Meta, but any conversation carried out through your thumbs is definitely lowest on the evolutionary scale, however technologically advanced it may be.

On the micro scale I have long held that you actually begin the conversation when you choose which of the communication modes you will use for your conversation. Think about it; you are sending a bit of a message through your choice of venue. It would be awfully disrespectful if I insisted that most of my conversations with my Mom be via text. Heck, she doesn’t really even text at all; she calls emailing from her iPad texting (sorry Mom!). By the same token, I am aware that younger folks, my kids’ age for example, often find an unannounced phone call to be an intrusion bordering on insult. Knowing this I text first with a request to hear their voice. At any moment you may be on either the accommodating or the accommodated side of this decision, of course. Just thinking about it makes you better at communicating.

I don’t think I will be adopting “voice texting” into my daily communication menu. For as much as hearing from Lee in this manner amuses me, I really don’t want a steady diet of this particular comms. I appreciate the convenience of texting, although as a “senior” texter I am likely not replying with the same degree of urgency I detect among those younger than I. Likewise, email has a place when I wish to expand on an idea, especially if I wish to have a concrete record of my conversation. All of the other “Keyboard Comms” are simply more than I need; I choose them infrequently, and almost never initiate a conversation via something like WhatsApp, for example.

In the end I think my Mom and I would agree that the best conversations, those in which we express the best version of both ourselves and our message, are those that involve evolutionary developments that supersede the appearance of the opposable thumb. Hearing a voice with your ears is ever so much better than “hearing” what’s been written. If you can pull off a chat IRL, right there in person, well, it really doesn’t get more effective. Both sides of the conversation are at their best and more likely to be giving their best. Doesn’t get any better.

And for all of the time I’ve spent over the years thinking about how we communicate in this not always so brave new world of communication technology, that really hasn’t changed a bit.

I’ll see you next week…

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